David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson

Greyfriars' Churchyard, the Martyrs' Memorial and the McCulloch monument, the figures may be David Octavius Hill and Miss Watson. [Edinburgh 54] (About 1843 - 44)

About this artwork

During the 1840s the most potent historical site in Edinburgh was Greyfriars Churchyard, the scene of the signing some two hundred years earlier of the National Covenant, a document enshrining Presbyterian religious liberties. For Adamson and Hill it was a place where the shock of the 1843 Disruption, a seismic schism within the Church of Scotland, could be worked through. The popularity of Greyfriars imagery at this time suggests a traumatic history that refused to be repressed. The figures may be David Octavius Hill and Miss Watson.

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.