David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson

Two Newhaven fishwives, perhaps Mrs Elizabeth (Johnstone) Hall on the right [Newhaven 28] (1843 - 1847)

About this artwork

This calotype of two fishwives is one of about 120 photographs by Hill and Adamson that document the life and work of the fishermen and women of Newhaven, an independent fishing village to the north of Edinburgh. Whilst the men went out to sea, the women did most of the land work, such as gutting and preparing the fish and carrying them up into town to sell. Their distinctive striped dresses and natural beauty made them a tourist attraction and they were admired for their strong and heroic character. Because of the dangerous work of their men at sea, the women’s life-long friendships were crucial in creating a close-knit community that cared for those in need, including the widows and orphans.

David Octavius Hill

Robert Adamson

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.

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.