Robert Adamson & John Adamson

St Andrews 1842 (1842)

About this artwork

This small picture may be the result of the photography lessons that John Adamson was giving to his younger brother, Robert, using particular spots in the town of St Andrews. After a long struggle with the difficult chemistry of the calotype process, Dr John Adamson took his first successful portrait calotype in May 1842 and continued to develop this technique until he could obtain clear and strong images. The success of this photograph is in itself a remarkable technical achievement.

Robert Adamson

John Adamson

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.

John Adamson

John Adamson was one of the pioneering photographic chemists in Scotland. He was born in Burnside, Fife, and studied medicine in St Andrews and Edinburgh. While developing his practice, he taught Chemistry and Natural Science at Madras College school (1837-40) and became interested in photography. He took the first successful calotype photograph in Scotland. From 1838-70 he was the curator of the St Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society's Museum, where he and his brother Robert used photography to document the museum's acquisitions. He took up photography again after his brother's death in 1848 and taught Thomas Rodger.