About this artwork

This photograph shows the north side of the Grassmarket in Edinburgh’s Old Town. For centuries, this wide street was the main approach from the west into the heart of the Old Town and was used by Lothian farmers to sell livestock and other products. Until the eighteenth century, it was also the site of public hangings, and the faint figure of a moving cart gives the scene a somewhat ghostly appearance. In this image, Clark deliberately contrasts the plain façades of the Grassmarket’s buildings with the gothic steeple of the Tolbooth Church on Castlehill, now known as ‘The Hub’. Although nowadays the Grassmarket is famous for its pubs and restaurants, at the time most buildings were occupied by small businesses and shops, such as the ‘victual dealer’ or grocer.

William Donaldson Clark

William Donaldson Clark

William Donaldson Clark was a wealthy cotton cloth printer who used his knowledge of chemistry in his practice as an amateur photographer. He employed the dry collodion process which made outdoor work more practical. Although it required exposure times of up to a quarter of an hour, the technique resulted in subtle effects of light and dark. Clark worked with the landscape painter, Horatio McCulloch, and his own landscape photographs have a similar sophistication. They include some remarkable views of Edinburgh. He died in 1873 when he fell from the top of a tram car travelling from Newington into the city.