Developing the Picture: Scotland’s Photography Collections

Developing the Picture: Scotland’s Photography Collections

The 2018 Annan Lecture by Louise Pearson

In 2018 Louise Pearson, Curator of Photography at the National Galleries of Scotland, explored the wealth of photographic collections in Scotland in her talk ‘Developing the Picture: Scotland’s Photography Collections’. She has kindly sent her powerpoint and notes for this lecture for us to publish here as part of our article series celebrating The Annan Lectures.

  • Scotland has a long and dynamic relationship with photography, which began almost as soon as the invention of photography was first announced to the world by the Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot and the Frenchman Louis Daguerre
  • A number of key Scottish figures helped to shape the developing medium into a vibrant artistic and scientific practice. Amongst these was Sir David Brewster, a scientist based at the University of St Andrews, who was a correspondent of Fox Talbot and a pioneer of photography, as well as the inventor of several pieces of photographic equipment including the lenticular stereoscope
  • Fox Talbot’s patent of his photographic process did not extend to Scotland, meaning Scots were free to experiment with the new technology
  • By the early 1840s the Edinburgh Calotype Club had formed. Probably the world’s first photographic club its members included the chemist Robert Adamson and the artist David Octavius Hill
  • David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson established a studio in Edinburgh in 1843 and produced within a few years an extensive body of work which is much celebrated for its technical accomplishment, artistic skill and the documentary record it provides of Scotland at a time when it was rapidly modernising
  • Building on this strong foundation Scotland went on to produce a number of outstanding photographers in the nineteenth century including Thomas Annan, whose photographs of Glasgow slums were among the first social documentary photographs, and George Washington Wilson, whose prolific output did much to spread the popularity of photography 
  • During the twentieth century Scotland continued to foster the growth of photography, producing many noted photographs whilst also providing inspiration for many visiting photographers including Paul Strand
  • Today, Scotland continues to be both the home and inspiration for world class photographers including Thomas Joshua Cooper and Martin Parr
  • With this history, it is unsurprising that many institutions in Scotland hold photographic collections
  • These organisations operate on very different scales and with a variety of different remits
  • Some are national bodies with a duty to collect and care for photographs which are of national importance. These include the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland
  • Others focus on photographic material which relates to a local area within Scotland – such as Perth Museum and Art Gallery and Orkney Library. It is worth remembering too that photographic material is such a broad medium that it can usually be found within museums, libraries and archives – and treated differently in each
  • There are also organisations in Scotland that collect photography as it relates to specific industries and organisations, for example the National Mining Museum Scotland and the Black Watch Museum
  • Additionally, often as a result of historic connections, several Scottish universities have exceptional photographic collections, among these the University of Aberdeen and the University of St Andrews
  • Despite their different scales and remits, these organisations share the common challenges of caring for photographic collections. Designed to be reproduced and affordable to all, they tend to arrive at organisations in large numbers. They take many different formats from loose prints and albums to glass and plastic negatives – each with their own storage and conservation challenges. They can be time consuming to catalogue, often arriving with very little paperwork, and it can be hard to know what type of photographic process you are dealing with without years of experience 
  • With this in mind, I am now going to introduce some of these collections – starting with Scotland’s national institutions before giving examples of some of the many organisations spread across the country which hold photographic material
  • I would like to stress that this is very much an introduction to Scotland’s photography collections – a comprehensive survey would be the lifetime work of several people and result in a lecture probably long enough to last until next years Annan lecture!
  • Beginning on home turf, the National Galleries of Scotland is home to around 40,000 photographs
  • The photography collection was established in 1984 with the aim of collecting and researching photography, with a particular interest in Scottish photography but with a remit to also collect the work of international photographers
  • The basis of the collection is 6,000 photographs by Hill and Adamson, the largest collection of their work anywhere in the world
  • This example is one of the earliest photographs taken of a sportsman, with Hill and Adamson using considerable skill to depict movement at a time when photographic technology required a relatively long exposure time
  • Scottish photographers such as Thomas Annan, George Washington Wilson and William Carrick are well represented in the collection, as well as many of the most significant photographers working in the nineteenth century including Roger Fenton, Julia Margaret Cameron and Lewis Carroll
  • These photographs of Glasgow are by Thomas Annan – his carefully composed photographs of the streets of the city were a sensitive documentary record of overcrowded and unhygienic conditions which were in dire need of improvement. The photographs that he produced were part of the impetus to improve living conditions in the city
  • The collection also holds photographs which are regarded as important moments in the history of photography, such as this image, The Steerage, by Alfred Stieglitz
  • Stieglitz was travelling to Europe when he took the photograph which would define his career – celebrated both for its modernist composition and its social commentary
  • Walking on the first class deck, Stieglitz looked down into the steerage. Immediately struck by the strength of the composition he quickly retrieved his camera, relieved to return to find the scene unchanged. Years later, Stieglitz described the adrenalin that he felt as he rushed to capture the moment: ‘If I had captured what I wanted, the photograph would go far beyond any of my previous prints. It would be a picture based on related shapes and deepest human feelings – a step in my own evolution, a spontaneous discovery’
  • An area of growth for the collection is the work of contemporary Scottish photographers
  • This work by Wendy McMurdo explores the experience of childhood and how it is rapidly changing in an age of digital play
  • Taken at what is now the National Museum of Scotland, Murdo has digital removed the girl’s viewing companion to leave her alone with her thoughts – in the process creating an image which has a conscious resemblance to the tale of Goldilocks and the three bears
  • The National Library of Scotland holds over 26 million items spread across 4 departments – Rare Books, Manuscripts, Modern Collections and the Moving Image Archive. All of these departments hold photographic material, ranging from early photographically illustrated books to the archives of writers, explorers and military leaders. NLS holds many relatively rare early photographically illustrated books due to its status as a legal deposit library
  • The Library has just completed a year-long survey of its photographic collections which has provided a much clearer picture of the scale and range of the photographic material held. The current count is approximately 340,000 photographs though this number is likely to rise as more detailed surveys take place 
  • The type of photographic material held is very broad and includes books and albums, loose photographs, negatives and lantern slides. Nearly every photographic process is represented 
  • Some of the highlights from the Rare Books collections are shown here. This is a print from Fox Talbot’s Sun Pictures in Scotland, arguably the first photographically illustrated monograph ever made, showing the construction of the Scot monument. Only 100 copies of this monograph were produced and only around 20 volumes are known to exist in book form
  • The second image is from the Edinburgh Calotype Club albums, which contain photographs by a range of mainly amateur photographers working in Scotland in the very earliest days of photography. Further volumes produced by this club are held at the Central Library, just across the road from the National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge
  • This photographically illustrated book was a milestone for photography as it demonstrated its place as a scientific tool that could shed light on questions which had puzzled for decades. Muybridge’s series of photographs of a horse galloping proved that a horse is indeed completely airborne for a brief moment during a stride
  • An officer in the East India Company army Captain Linnaeus Tripe is known for his photographs of India and Burma taken in the 1850s. His prints are characterised by his talent for making consistently high quality prints in hot and humid conditions and capturing the details of architecture from carefully considered viewpoints
  • These photographs are from an album which belonged to the Scottish artist William Simpson. Born in Glasgow he became one of the most prolific war artists of his day, sketching many scenes for the Illustrated London News. In 1855 when he was working in the Crimea he was photographed by Roger Fenton, who made a celebrated series of photographs during the Crimean War. In 1856, after his return from the Crimea, he was also photographed by another significant Victorian photographer Francis Bedford
  • Through the nature of his connections, Simpson’s album brings together photographs by important photographers whose work you may not expect to find in the same album
  • One of the highlights of the Manuscript department’s photographic collections is the archive of American explorer and mountaineer Fanny Bullock Workman. Consisting of around 6,500 photographs and negatives these extraordinary images document the adventures of a pioneering female mountaineer as she cycled and climbed across Europe and and the Himalayas 
  • 14,000 extra photographs have just been added to the national collections in a joint acquisition, the first of its kind, between the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland
  • The MacKinnon collection documents 100 years of Scottish photography, originally collected by Aberdeen businessman Murray MacKinnon. The photographic material includes loose prints, albums, daguerreotypes and books and provides a visual record of how Scotland changed physically, socially and economically between 1840 and 1940
  • Covering a range of subjects – family portraits, working life, street scenes, sporting pursuits, shops, trams, tenements, mountains and monuments – the collection was one of the last great collections of Scottish photography still in private hands
  • The collection was acquired for the nation with the assistance of the Scottish government, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund
  • Over the next three years the collection will be catalogued and digitised and will be the subject of an exhibition which will begin at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery before touring to several venues across Scotland
  • Among the highlights of the collection are early photographs of Scotland – including this beautiful image of Loch Katrine by Fox Talbot himself
  • Mostly comprising of the work of Scottish photographers, the MacKinnon collection enhances the existing Scottish holdings of the work of the most important Scottish photographers working in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries including James Craig Annan and Hill & Adamson
  • Also included in the collection is a significant amount of material which is unattributed, offering an anonymous but engaging look at the Scots of the past
  • These photographs cover the length and breadth of the country and show people from all walks of life
  • One of the most intriguing items is an album which belonged to the Ayrshire based Fairlie family
  • The album includes studio portraits of generations of the family, many of them incorporated into amusing illustrations – such as this drawing of a door which incorporates 7 family portraits – with one member of the family presented as the door knocker!
  • An unexpected addition to the album is a portrait of one member of the family by Julia Margaret Cameron, who was particularly known for her portraits of young women
  • The National Museum of Scotland holds a collection of around 20,000 photographs, mainly dating from the nineteenth century, and a comprehensive collection of historic photographic equipment including early cameras. This includes an important collection of cameras and equipment associated with pioneering photographer William Henry Fox Talbot which was donated by his granddaughter Matilda in 1936
  • These images show a couple of the photographic devices from the collection – a stereoscopic viewer and a daguerreotype camera
  • The National Museum collection grew considerably following the donation of 18,000 photographs by collector Bernard Howarth-Loomes in 2003
  • Following a decade of cataloguing and planning this collection formed the basis of the major exhibition A Victorian Sensation which was held at NMS in 2015
  • Included in this donation were 351 daguerreotypes and 191 ambrotypes – including this daguerreotype portrait of a family
  • The donation also included 2,673 carte-de-viste. During the Victorian period these were extremely popular to collect and many feature famous faces including these of William Henry Fox Talbot and Queen Victoria
  • The largest group of material from the Howarth-Loomes collection was 12,856 stereographs as Howarth-Loomes, like Brian May, was an avid collector of this Victorian sensation. Consisting of 2 nearly identical images, when viewed in a stereoscopic viewer the image appears in 3D
  • This stereograph from the collection shows the Grand Galley at NMS, still recognisible even when filled with animal skeletons! 
  • Another important aspect of the NMS photographic collections is the Scottish Life Archive which aims to collect and preserve documentary evidence of Scotland’s social history 
  • It was established in 1959 and collects photographs on the themes of industry, housing, work, family and religion among many others. These photographs are complimented by archive records, oral history recordings and newspaper cuttings
  • These photographs from the archive show family life in Scotland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
  • The archive also includes photographs which record Scottish achievements, including this astonishing image of a gymnastics display taken in Dunfermline which involves almost 50 young athletes 
  • Apparently displays of gymnastic skill such as this were very popular in Scotland
  • As well as the national museum, library and galleries there are a number of national heritage bodies operating in Scotland which hold photographic collections
  • The range of photographs held by the National Records of Scotland is extensive and numbers around 70,000 images, around a third of which are glass based
  • Most of these photographs are from 2 specific collections – the records of Upper Clyde shipbuilders and British Rail
  • This fantastic image is from the British Rail archive. During the construction of the Forth Bridge, the young engineer Evelyn George Carey was given privileged access to the site in order to make a comprehensive record of the bridge’s development. It was hoped that this visual documentation would restore public confidence in British engineering following the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879. In this photograph Carey uses volunteers, possibly the architects of the bridge Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker, to demonstrate the cantilever principle. If you look closely you can see that the boy’s weight is sufficiently supported for his feet to raise off the ground – just as the cantilevers support the central girder of the bridge
  • Another significant national body which collects photographs is Historic Environment Scotland, which also incorporates the National Collection of Aerial Photography
  • The National Collection of Aerial Photography is one of the largest collections of aerial photography in the world and cares for over 26 million aerial photographs showing places around the world and significant military events such as the Blitz and the evacuation of Dunkirk 
  • The vast majority have now been declassified by the Ministry of Defence and are now available to the public 
  • This German photograph shows Clydeside during the Blitz. The image was taken on 2nd October 1939 and is annotated with coordinates and intelligence information to enable the bombers to target the John Brown shipyard
  • This photograph was taken on 5th June 1940 during the Dunkirk evacuation. You can just about see the abandoned vehicles and sunken ships which were left on the beach following the evacuation of British troops 
  • These photographs give only a very small snapshot into the many significant military events of the twentieth century which were captured by aerial photography
  • The National Trust for Scotland has recently launched the Morton Photography Project – a specially funded project to allow the organisation to focus attention on its photograph collections which are held both at a central archive in Edinburgh and in historic properties across Scotland
  • The material held ranges from cameras to paper prints and glass negatives and totals around 20,000 – 25,000 items though this number is likely to increase as cataloguing continues
  • One of the biggest highlights of the National Trust for Scotland’s collection is the Margaret Fay Shaw archive. Margaret Fay Shaw was an American of Scottish descent who fell in love with the islands and people of the Hebrides.  She spent some time living on South Uist and took hundreds of photographs of life there. She then spent decades recording life on the Isle of Canna with her husband.  At Canna House, the National Trust now holds her archive of around 10,000-12,000 transparencies, slides and prints which provide a crucial record of life in the Hebrides between the 1930s and the 1950s
  • Here you can see another of her remarkable images, documenting children dressing up for Halloween in around 1930
  • Another highlight of the National Trust’s collection is the photographic archive of the Glasgow Boy E A Hornel, taken and collected by him in Scotland, Japan and Sri Lanka
  • This collection of 2,000-3,000 glass plate negatives and prints are kept at Broughton House in Kirkcudbright and provide a valuable insight into how Hornel used photography to create his art, as well as being an important social history record of the area
  • As well as collections relating to significant individuals, the organisation cares for the domestic records of Scotland’s county houses which provide an interesting insight into the social history of Scotland’s estates over the course of more than a century
  • One of the biggest depositaries for Scottish photographs are local authority museums, art galleries and libraries – some of which now operate as cultural Trusts
  • The first local authority in Scotland to collect art photography was Dundee City Council, who acquired 2 photographs by Thomas Joshua Cooper in 1985
  • This championing of art photography at an early stage in its development has resulted in a fine collection representing most of the key Scotland-based photographers of the late 20th century.  The range and quality of the collection was significantly improved with the acquisition of work through the Scottish Arts Council bequest in 1998
  • The collection includes a range of media used by twentieth-century fine art photographers, including gelatin silver prints and C-type colour prints 
  • Currently totalling 1048 photographs the collection is part of Dundee’s wider collection of Fine & Decorative Art which is recognised as a Nationally Significant Collection
  • Highlights from the collection include the largest body of work by Joseph McKenzie in a public collection at over 900 prints
  • Like many local authorities, Dundee holds a group of photographs which sits within its historic collection
  • A recent audit has calculated that there are around 20,000 photographs in this collection including images of whaling and polar exploration, studio photographs, material relating to local industries and businesses and images of notable Dundee residents 
  • Recent additions include the purchase of a previously undeveloped and unpublished set of negatives from the Beatles 1964 show at Dundee’s Caird Hall
  • Another example of a Scottish cultural trust with a photographic collection of particular interest is Perth Museum & Art Gallery
  • The collection consists of around 150,000 photographs covering the full range of photographic processes
  • A particular highlight of the collection is 2,500 wet collodion negatives by Perth photographer Magnus Jackson showing a range of subjects from trees to boats and slaughter houses
  • Magnus Jackson’s work was the subject of a recent exhibition at Perth Museum & Art Gallery, and was used as a starting point to introduce the public to photographers who are currently working with traditional photographic techniques 
  • Orkney Library and Archive is an example of a local authority library which includes in its collections a large volume of photographic material – like many of its counterparts around the country
  • The library estimates that it has around 60,000 photographs in almost every format
  • Tom Kent is one of the most recognisable photographers represented in the collection. Born in 1863 he trained as a photographer in America  before returning to Orkney to set up a photographic studio. His views of the islands are one of the most important documentary records of Orkney ever made
  • The archive of amateur photographer David Horne is also housed in his hometown of Kirkwall
  • A butcher by trade, David Horne photographed Kirkwall and the surrounding area as well as being a poet
  • This striking photograph of writer George Mackay Brown is from the archive of the Swedish photographer Gunnie Moberg who settled in Orkney in the 1970s
  • During her photographic career Moberg worked primarily in Orkney, but also in Shetland and the Faroe Islands, making aerial and landscape photographs as well as portraits of visiting writers and musicians
  • Through these photographs Moberg built a compelling body of work that not only represents the social history of Orkney during the last quarter of the 20th century but also gives an insight into why the islands have provided inspiration for so many artists
  • Focusing on the strengths of photography as a documentary record, the National Mining Museum Scotland holds around 25,000 photographs relating to mining in Scotland
  • The collection documents Scotland’s coal industry from the early 20th century through to its decline at the end of the century and current opencast operations.  As well as the industry at work, the collection covers the social history of Scotland’s coal mining communities
  • There is also a large number of photographs originally taken for the National Coal Board by photographers such as Arnold Rhodes.  Some of these were used in public campaigns and publications by the National CoalBoard
  • Many of these photographs document the working methods of Scottish miners and the changing technology of their work, though there are also photographs which show the family lives of miners over the years
  • The mining museum is a good example of how photographs are relevant to nearly every form of collecting – whether it be an industrial museum or an art gallery
  • In a similar vein, photographs make up a substantial part of the collections of the various military museums across Scotland
  • The Black Watch Museum in Perth has around 3,000 photographs and has ongoing plans to rehouse and catalogue them
  • These photographs chart the work of the Black Watch over several continents and include images of the regiment during the Boer War and fighting in the middle east in the 1930s
  • Scotland’s universities have very strong collections of photography, especially the University of St Andrews
  • The origin of this was the friendship between the British inventor of photography Fox Talbot and the Principle of the University Sir David Brewster
  • It was also in St Andrews that Hill and Adamson made the earliest photographs of Scotland, and perfected the calotype process
  • In the 1970s the university began formally collecting photography, with the importance of the university to the history of photography attracting numerous other important donations
  • The collection currently consists of around 800,000 photographs ranging in format from glass negatives to salted paper prints
  • Reflecting the town’s history, a strong area of collecting is early photographic material from the first 30 years of photography’s history
  • This aspect of collecting also includes acquiring works by significant art photographers such as Oscar Gustave Rejlander
  • This photograph is one of the earliest examples of a photographic montage, where a photographic image is made using a series of different negatives. It was one of the most ambitious photographs to be made in the early days of photography
  • The university’s special collections also include the archive of Dundee postcard publisher James Valentine, which totals around 120,000 items – predominantly postcards but also albums and negatives
  • Established in 1851 in Dundee, Valentines postcards were an extremely common sight across Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with almost every town and city in Britain represented on a picture postcard
  • Another university with a very important photograph collection is the University of Aberdeen which cares for the archive of the prolific Aberdeen photographer George Washington Wilson. Born in the north east of Scotland Wilson established his photographic firm in the 1850s and documented both his native Scotland and destinations around the world
  • The archive consists of around 35,000 items, both photographs and glass plate negatives, which have now been digitised 
  • These glass plates show the new Balmoral Castle which was completed in 1856. George Washington Wilson was commissioned by Prince Albert to document the new castle, which led to him doing further work for the Royal family
  • I hope that this brief introduction has given you an idea of the richness and variety of the photographs held in Scottish collections and an appetite to find out more
  • With the challenges posed by large volumes of material and limited resources there is still a considerable amount of work to be done before Scotland’s photographic collections are fully known, and I’m sure many others in this room will join me in feeling both excited and daunted by that prospect
  • Survey projects such as those under way at the National Library of Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland are a very effective way for organisations to begin the huge task of identifying and caring for their photographic material and often lay the groundwork for more detailed cataloguing and digitisation projects
  • There are also a number of organisations working in Scotland to promote Scottish photography, and foster connections between different collections to share knowledge and experience. I would urge you to get involved with both SSHoP and Photography Scotland
  • On a wider UK level The Photographic Collections Network is a relatively new subject specialist network which aims to bring together anyone connected with photo collections or archives in the UK, with the aim of building knowledge and enjoyment of photographic treasures
  • Part of the work of this network is to build up a map of photographic collections across the UK, and it would be great to see as many Scottish collections represented as possible
  • Finally, I would like to thank the large number of people who contributed information and images to this talk – it was great to hear from so many enthusiastic photography colleagues spread right across Scotland – and the CCA for letting us use their lovely venue

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