Robert Adamson & David Octavius Hill

Alexander Rutherford, William Ramsay and John Liston [Newhaven 32] (1843 - 1847)

About this artwork

One of Hill and Adamson’s calotypes of Newhaven and its inhabitants, this powerful portrait shows three self-confident fishermen in a relaxed pose in front of one of the boats. The way in which they form a solid, mutually supportive group gives a sense of the close-knit social structure of this independent fishing community. Dressed in individual-looking hats, their clothes are shaped and battered by their work at sea, which was highly-skilled and dangerous but profitable. The Newhaven men worked from open boats, close to the shore as well as further out on open sea. Every year during the herring season, they moved 200 miles north to Wick for six to eight weeks, often rowing the entire distance.

Robert Adamson

David Octavius Hill

Robert Adamson

Robert Adamson was one of the first professional photographers, setting up in business in Edinburgh in March 1843. He had aspired to be an engineer but his health was too poor. His brother, John, who was involved in the early experiments with photography in St Andrews, taught him the calotype process. Shortly after opening his studio on Calton Hill, Robert met the painter David Octavius Hill. They worked together for a few weeks on studies for a grand painting of the Free Church of Scotland before entering into partnership to explore the possibilities of photography. Despite Adamson's early death, the two produced some of the most impressive works taken in the medium and greatly influenced later practice in the art.

David Octavius Hill

A painter and a lithographer by training, David Octavius Hill is best remembered for the beauty of the calotypes he and Robert Adamson produced together. Hill was a sociable and kind-hearted man who did much to support the arts in Scotland and between 1830 and 1836 he was the unpaid Secretary of the newly established Royal Scottish Academy. After Adamson's death, Hill's attempt to start a new partnership with the photographer Alexander MacGlashan around 1860 failed. Hill is to this day revered as one of the first in the trade who transformed photography into an art form.