Fife photography pioneer to feature in ‘breathtaking’ exhibition

Dr John Adamsons home on South Street, St Andrews, 1862. By John Adamson.
Dr John Adamsons home on South Street, St Andrews, 1862. By John Adamson.

Dr Robert Adamson – pioneer photographer from St Andrews – will be celebrated at an exhibition staged by the National Galleries of Scotland.

A Perfect Chemistry: Photographs by Hill & Adamson will explore the uniquely productive and influential partnership of Adamson and David Octavius Hill, which lasted a few short years from 1843 until early 1848.

Only four years after the invention of photography was announced to the world in 1839, the two Scots had mastered the new medium and were producing works of breathtaking skill, in extraordinary quantities.

The National Galleries of Scotland has the largest collection of Hill and Adamson works in the world and next summer’s exhibition will feature a selection of around 100 photographs, consisting of original paper negatives and salted paper prints, which will demonstrate the profound significance of their achievement.

Robert Adamson was introduced to photography by his brother John – whose home was what is now The Adamson restaurant – and practised his photography with Hill in Edinburgh, documenting many of the important people of the day as well as scenes of the city.

Their photographs are arguably among the first examples of social documentary in the history of photography.

Robert died in St Andrews in 1848 at the age of 26.

A Perfect Chemistry: Photographs by HIll &Adamson will be staged at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery from May to October.

Who was he?

A farmer’s son, Adamson was born in St Andrews, one of ten children and educated at Madras School where he showed exceptional talents in mathematics and mechanics.

He was taught calotype by his brother, John, and by the physicist David Brewster of the University of St Andrews in the late 1830s.

As early as April 1839, Adamson’s talents were recognised, and Fox Talbot, the inventor of the calotype, would call his pictures “Rembrandtish”

Adamson established his photographic studio at Rock House, Calton Hill Stairs in Edinburgh and soon struck up a friendship with romantic landscape painter Hill - a pairing which, within a few years, saw them take the art world by storm .