Iona (1 September 1856)
About this artwork
Thomas Keith took his pictures before seven in the morning and after four in the afternoon to achieve the raking light, which picked out architectural detail and emphasised the structure of a building, as shown in this photograph of Iona Abbey. When Keith exhibited the picture in December 1856, a critic hailed it as 'a vigorous and most powerful picture'. The figure is probably Keith's wife, Elizabeth Johnston, whose presence offers us a nineteenth-century meditation on the ancient Christian ruins of the abbey, founded by St Columba in the sixth century.
Thomas Keith trained in surgery at the University of Edinburgh. At the time he took up photography, he was in general practice in Edinburgh with his brother, George. According to his obituary, he 'was always in earnest: and whatever he found to do, he did it with all his might.' This is seen in his photography, where he worked with the waxed paper process, achieving subtle and strong effects by the exact use of chemistry. He gave up photography after 1859 due to the demands of his highly successful medical practice.