About this artwork

This very early calotype by John Adamson shows his younger brother, the photographer Robert Adamson. Despite both being pioneering photographers, Robert became the more famous of the two due to his partnership with the painter David Octavius Hill. Having been taught the calotype process by his brother, in 1843 Robert opened his own photographic studio on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. Shortly afterwards he met Hill and their successful working relationship led to a period of close collaboration, during which they produced an impressive body of work that greatly influenced later practice in photography. This photograph shows the artistic influence of Sir Henry Raeburn in the use of light and shadow, focusing attention on the head and hand of the sitter.

John Adamson

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.