MacKinnon Collection

The Spring 2019 edition of Studies in Photography was the first of a two-part series of Journals focusing on Collections and Collecting. Included is an article by Blake Milteer entitled From Private to Public: The MacKinnon Collection and The National Galleries of Scotland-National Library of Scotland Partnership, that explains the importance of this photographic collection and its acquisition on behalf of the public.

The MacKinnon Collection is a collection of over 14,000 photographs dating from the earliest Scottish photography to the middle of the 20th Century. It was bought in a special collaboration between the National Library of Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland, with support from the Scottish Government, the National Lottery and the Art Fund.


John D. Stephen (dates unknown), Dawn of Light and Liberty, 1920s
Hand-tinted silver gelatine print, 27.2 x 31 cm, MMK.00449.

There are extensive and enduring cultural benefits when a private collection becomes public. In this instance the MacKinnon Collection will be shared in perpetuity by both NGS and NLS. This ambitious commitment proceeded from assuredness that the MacKinnon Collection’s content and quality are, and will remain, relevant to the existing and growing collections of both NGS and NLS. It must add layers to currently strong narratives, expand underdeveloped areas, and also serve to fill gaps with previously unrepresented photographers and themes.

Blake Milteer

John Simpson (dates unknown), Portrait of a Young Girl, 1935,
Silver gelatine print, 16 x 21 cm, MMK.02435.16.

John Simpson’s Portrait of a Young Girl, dated 1935, also partakes of a nostalgic perspective … literally, self-reflection. Despite the image’s visual softness, the narrative is decidedly unsubtle. It is also uncomplex, and Simpson certainly understands this as he invites the viewer to address the scene by adding layers of their own experiences. The photograph is not without mystery, as Simpson has located his subject in a garden or forest rather than in a domestic setting. From folk tales compiled by the Brothers Grimm to A.A. Milne, the connection between children and forests inspires tales from terrifying to enchanting. The most enduring stories embrace both, prompting transition in to adulthood, or at least recognition of it.

Blake Milteer

Scotland’s Photograph Album | The MacKinnon Collection is on display at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery until 16 February 2020.

As well as sitting on the Committee for The Scottish Society for the History of Photography, Blake Milteer is the curator of the MacKinnon Collection.

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