About this artwork

One of the leading surgeons in Europe of his day, Professor James Syme was Chair of Clinical Surgery at Edinburgh University from 1833 until 1869. He was renowned for his pioneering surgery involving amputations, and the speed with which his operations were carried out. He once reported: "I cut along the bone, which started, with a loud report, from its socket. Finally, I passed the knife around the head of the bone, cutting the remaining portion of the ligament, and this completed the operation, which certainly did not occupy at the most more than one minute." This photograph by John Adamson looks yellow because of the printing process used. Albumen, or pure egg white, was used to coat the paper and create a smooth surface. Unfortunately it often yellows over time.

John Adamson

John Adamson

John Adamson was one of the pioneering photographic chemists in Scotland. He was born in Burnside, Fife, and studied medicine in St Andrews and Edinburgh. While developing his practice, he taught Chemistry and Natural Science at Madras College school (1837-40) and became interested in photography. He took the first successful calotype photograph in Scotland. From 1838-70 he was the curator of the St Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society's Museum, where he and his brother Robert used photography to document the museum's acquisitions. He took up photography again after his brother's death in 1848 and taught Thomas Rodger.