Hill & Adamson

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Hill & Adamson
Hill & Adamson composite.jpg
Composite photographs of Hill (left) and Adamson. Both circa 1845.
Formation 1843
Extinction 1848
Purpose Photography studio, producing Salt prints from Calotype negatives.
Coordinates 55°57′16″N 3°11′07″W / 55.954361°N 3.185335°W / 55.954361; -3.185335
Key people
David Octavius Hill
Robert Adamson
Affiliations David Brewster

In 1843 painter David Octavius Hill joined engineer Robert Adamson to form Scotland's first photographic studio.[1] During their brief partnership that ended with Adamson's untimely death, Hill & Adamson produced "the first substantial body of self-consciously artistic work using the newly invented medium of photography."[2] Watercolorist John Harden, on first seeing Hill & Adamson's calotypes in November 1843 wrote, "The pictures produced are as Rembrandt's but improved, so like his style & the oldest & finest masters that doubtless a great progress in Portrait painting & effect must be the consequence."[3]

Free Church of Scotland[edit]

Hill was present at the Disruption Assembly in 1843 when over 450 ministers walked out of the Church of Scotland assembly and down to another assembly hall to found the Free Church of Scotland. He decided to record the dramatic scene with the encouragement of his friend Lord Cockburn and another spectator, the physicist Sir David Brewster who suggested using the new invention, photography, to get likenesses of all the ministers present. Brewster was himself experimenting with this technology which only dated back to 1839, and he introduced Hill to another enthusiast, Robert Adamson. Hill & Adamson took a series of photographs of those who had been present and of the setting. The 5 foot x 11 foot 4 inches (1.53m x 3.45m) painting was eventually completed in 1866.[4]

Photography studio[edit]

Rock House

Their collaboration, with Hill providing skill in composition and lighting, and Adamson considerable sensitivity and dexterity in handling the camera, proved extremely successful, and they soon broadened their subject matter. Adamson's studio, "Rock House", on the Calton Hill in Edinburgh became the centre of their photographic experiments. Using the Calotype process, they produced a wide range of portraits depicting well-known Scottish luminaries of the time, including Hugh Miller, both in the studio and in outdoors settings, often amongst the elaborate tombs in Greyfriars Kirkyard.[4]

They photographed local and Fife landscapes and urban scenes, including images of the Scott Monument under construction in Edinburgh. As well as the great and the good, they photographed ordinary working folk, particularly the fishermen of Newhaven, and the fishwives who carried the fish in creels the 3 miles (5 km) uphill to the city of Edinburgh to sell them round the doors, with their cry of "Caller herrin" (fresh herring). They produced several groundbreaking "action" photographs of soldiers and - perhaps their most famous photograph - two priests walking side by side.[4]

Their partnership produced around 3000 prints, but was cut short after only four years due to the ill health and untimely death of Adamson in 1848. The calotypes faded under sunlight, so had to be kept in albums, and though Hill continued the studio for some months, he became less active and abandoned the studio, though he continued to sell prints of the photographs and to use them as an aid for composing paintings.[4]

Historical Reevaluation[edit]

A webpage of the University of Glasgow Library writes, "Early scholarship by art historians usually credited Hill as the sole author of the photographic prints. Some later historians had disparagingly added "with Adamson" as a credit. Scholars today recognize that the partnership was crucial to the production of their amazing photographic works. Adamson's solo work was technically proficient but lacked flair and spontaneity before he met Hill. Equally, Hill's photographic efforts after the death of Adamson were dismal. It is clear that both men played a crucial role in the creation and the execution of the final images."[5]


Selected Artwork by Hill & Adamson
Edinburgh Ale, c1844 
Newhaven fisherman, 1845 
Newhaven Boy, c1845 
St Andrews, North Street, Fishergate, c1845 


  1. ^ Union List of Artist Names
  2. ^ Daniel, Malcolm (2004). Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Daniel is the curator of
  3. ^ As cited in Daniel, Malcom (2004). Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.
  4. ^ a b c d Michaelson, Katherine (1970). Scottish Arts Council
  5. ^ University of Glasgow Library, Hill & Adamson Biographies


External links[edit]