Since moving to Edinburgh and studying in the capital I've had a growing interest in history and how photography played a part in illustrating this in the Scottish context. Edinburgh is a fantastic city booming with the arts and culture. I am extremely fortunate to live in such a place.
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery had a recent photography exhibition - The Mackinnon Collection. And my goodness, it was fantastic! The photographs from the nineteenth and twentieth century highlight a variety of subjects. We see photographs by Hill and Adamson, the native Scottish pair are considered to be the pioneers of documentary photography. We see Glasgow's Thomas Annan who captured drastic infrastructure changes to the city and an array of postcards from that era. The collection holds 15,000 photographs and is a great depiction of manners and customs of Scottish people.
There is a great podcast created by the national portrait gallery which discusses the collection in more depth and is perfect to listen to if you want to learn more about this exhibition and its subjects. I've also made a playlist on SoundCloud of other art related podcasts which may be of interest for some people.
David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson captured the essence of Edinburgh and its people shortly after the creation of photography in the early 1830s. During their short partnership they were able to capture many aspects of life during this time. Their studies of Newhaven fishing village folk is a particular favourite of mine which highlights the initial development of documentary photography. The series of portraits taken by Hill and Adamson depicted the bold cultural narrative of the folk. They were seen as a strong, distinctive and self sufficient community. Hill and Adamson’s photographs document their daily lives in the village at that time and reflect their known reputation of bravery.
David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, Sandy Linton, his boat and bairns, Calotype, 1843-46.
The image titled ‘Sandy Linton, his boat and bairns’ is part of the 120-calotype series based in Newhaven. In the image you see Linton with his children and boat in the background. They couldn’t photograph at sea with the camera and therefore took the shot with the boat towed on land. This photograph depicts the bond between father and son, as fathers in the village would teach and protect their sons how to survive out in the waters. In the 1840s, there was a destructive storm which led to the death of many northern fishermen; however, none were from Newhaven because they were well trained and skilful on their open boats. As discussed, the community were known for their strength with their cultural coherence and this image accentuates this.
Hill and Adamson's work documented the changing face of Edinburgh. During their time, there was a lot of social change and change to the physical form of Edinburgh. They photographed the construction of the Scott’s monument on Princes Street in the 1840s. The Monument was dedicated to writer Sir Walter Scott, and to this day is the largest monument in tribute to a writer across the world. It is now an iconic aspect of the Edinburgh landscape and their photographic contributions document historical stages of its production. Hill and Adamson captured portraits of the Scott Monument’s architect, George Meikle Kemp who died before construction of the monument was complete. They also took a portrait of John Steell who curated the sculpture which now sits in the middle of the Scott Monument.
Left: David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, construction of the Scott Monument, Salt paper print from a Calotype negative, 1840s. Right:David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, Portrait of George Meikle Kemp, 1843-47.
All photographs taken by these two pioneers document an incredible amount of information of Edinburgh in this time. We can visualise a time before us - I for one am incredibly grateful to have access to such fantastic photographs! If you are wanting to discover more about Hill and Adamson the National Gallery have a youtube video which discusses their works in more detail.
I hope you enjoyed a brief intro to my history of the arts in Edinburgh!