Robert Adamson

The Royal High School, Edinburgh [Edinburgh 32] (17 May 1843)

About this artwork

The Royal High School on Calton Hill was built in 1829 to a design by Thomas Hamilton. Used as a school until 1966, it has since been considered as a home for other institutions including the Scottish Parliament. The building stands close to Robert Adamson’s former studio on Calton Hill, which he shared with David Octavius Hill. This calotype was printed on 17 May 1843, the day before the Disruption within the Church of Scotland that would bring about Hill and Adamson’s famous partnership. Hill intended to paint a large-scale picture of all those present at this historic event, and the success of taking portrait photographs as memory aids resulted in the men’s close collaboration until Adamson’s untimely death in 1848.

Robert 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.