Robert Adamson & David Octavius Hill

Unknown officer, three mounted soldiers, Major Wright, possibly Captain Bortingham and Major Crawford of the Leith Fort Artillery [Military 10] (1843 - 1847)

About this artwork

This calotype by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson shows a group of officers and soldiers from the Royal Artillery. It was taken within the walls of Leith Fort, which was located on North Fort Street in Leith. Built in 1779 by architect James Craig, the fort was used as an army base by the Royal Artillery until the early 1950s, when it was largely demolished. The building in the background of this photograph is the fort’s gatehouse, which incidentally is now the only remaining part of the original structure. This photograph is of particular interest for its slanting use of light, as the camera is nearly pointing into the sun.

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.