Portal:Scotland/Selected article/Week 47, 2013

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Composite photographs of Hill (left) and Adamson. Both circa 1845

Hill & Adamson, Scotland's first photographic studio, was formed in 1843 when painter David Octavius Hill joined engineer Robert Adamson to explore the new field of photography. During their brief partnership, which ended with Adamson's untimely death, they produced "the first substantial body of self-consciously artistic work using the newly invented medium of photography". 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." 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.

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. 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. 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.