Multiple artists

Leith docks with the ship 'Cockburn' tied up (1843 - 1846 (printed 1991))

About this artwork

This photograph is a modern print from an original negative. It shows Leith’s Old Docks with the ship ‘Cockburn’ (pronounced Coburn) tied up in the foreground. The mouth of the Water of Leith forms the natural harbour that has operated as Edinburgh’s port since the fourteenth century. Nineteenth-century improvements, including the construction of the first deep water docks, caused the city’s bankruptcy in 1833. Yet the expansion continued and another five docks – enclosed areas of water used for loading, unloading, building and repairing ships – were built. In recent years redevelopment of the area has introduced residential, retail and leisure facilities. The disused Old Docks in this image were filled in and now form the car park of the Scottish Government’s offices.

David Octavius Hill

Robert Adamson

Michael and Barbara Gray

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.

Michael and Barbara Gray

Michael and Barbara Gray are experts in the calotype process and have the specialist knowledge required to print modern calotypes from the original negatives. Until recently, Michael Gray was curator of the Fox Talbot Museum of Photography. This museum, located in Lacock, Wiltshire, commemorates the life and work of William Henry Fox Talbot who in 1840 invented the Calotype process.