Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

In pictures: 'Unseen' Edinburgh archive from the 50s and 60s

Four children walking down a street, 1966. Image copyright Robert Blomfield

A doctor who wandered the streets of Edinburgh photographing everyday life in the 1950s and 60s is to have his images shown in an exhibition.

Robert Blomfield, now 80, was forced to give up his hidden passion 20 years ago after suffering a stroke.

His family has spent years cataloguing and digitising more than 1,000 of his photographs.

They include dozens of photos from his decade spent in Edinburgh.

Cars and buses on Princes Street, 1964. Image copyright Robert Blomfield

Mr Blomfield's career in medicine meant that the thousands of images were hidden away for many years, only ever appreciated by his wife and three children.

After his stroke in 1999, Mr Blomfield's late wife instigated the digitisation of his work.

Studying art history, she saw the value in her husband's photography.

Boy sat on top of a cannon on Calton Hill, 1966. Image copyright Robert Blomfield
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Mr Blomfield moved to Edinburgh to study medicine, but he explained that his "passion" was always for photography:

"I think it's a form of love," he said. "You love the picture, and I sort of loved the people too.

Two policemen next to a car accident, 1966. Image copyright Robert Blomfield
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"I was quite a shy person. I suppose I used the camera as a protection to a certain extent. It gave me an excuse to go to certain places which I, without a camera, would feel too shy to go to.

"With a lot of these pictures I feel as if they were put there for me to take a photograph of.

"I didn't have to set the stage, the stage set itself."

Boy swigging Coca-Cola, 1966 Image copyright Robert Blomfield
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Mr Blomfield's son, Ed, has been a part of the exhibition's selection process.

His family, along with the City Art Centre's curators, have chosen 60 pieces from the thousand-strong collection.

"I remember getting frustrated back then because he was always taking pictures, but then you appreciate them when you see them," he said.

"We would have regular slideshows. We'd dim the lights in the living room as the latest batch would come back from the developers.

Two young girls playing in a tyre, 1966. Image copyright Robert Blomfield

"He had a real connection to the city and the people. He saw and captured the beauty in some of the most deprived areas."

Robert's father gifted him his first camera when he was 14 years old. "That's where the obsession started," his son explained: "I've seen some of the earlier stuff he took back in the 50s, and as a photographer myself now, I can tell they were good from the word go.

"He wasn't formally trained but he had a real eye for frame and image."

Students gathered drinking coffee in the student union, 1964. Image copyright Robert Blomfield

Ed explained that as much as his father was a talented photographer, he felt his calling was in medicine.

"Medicine was his primary vocation," he said. "He didn't enjoy working to a brief; he was a bit of a purist in that regard.

"Photography was his quiet passion for all of his able life until he had his stroke in 1999."

Robert Blomfield photographing two children, taken by his wife Jane. Image copyright Jane Blomfield
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"We've already had people come forward saying they know the places or the people in the photos. Even some people coming forward saying they are the people in the photos.

"It brings back memories for people, and that's wonderful to hear."

Two children on the cobbled streets of Edinburgh, 1966. Image copyright Robert Blomfield
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Maeve Toal, City Art Centre curator, said: "We only saw a glimpse of Robert's artwork and knew it was special. What is refreshing is that he had no formal training, yet the photographs were still of such incredible quality.

"We wanted to strike a balance with the 60 photographs we have chosen, because we wanted to not only capture Edinburgh in the 60s, but also the dramatic shifts that were taking place post-war.

"I think people are going to enjoy reminiscing or drawing comparisons with then and now."

Two women with two chickens, 1966. Image copyright Robert Blomfield
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Robert's brother Johnny appears in Stuart Edwards' documentary of Robert's life and art, which will be shown as part of the exhibition.

Johnny said: "We enjoyed seeing the photographs as they kept coming, and they burst into colour in the late 60s, and they became a flood in the 70s and 80s. So really it's a record of Robert's life.

"It is nice to know that they are being appreciated by more and more people. We always knew they were good.

"We're very proud of him."

Robert Blomfield taking a picture of himself. Image copyright Robert Blomfield

Robert Blomfield: Edinburgh Street Photography - An Unseen Archive runs from 24 November 2018 until 17 March 2019 at City Art Centre in Edinburgh.

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