14/05/2018
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100 years of Scottish photography secured for the nation

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An 'exceptional' collection of historic photographs that captures a century of life in Scotland is to be shared with the public following a special collaboration between the National Library of Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland.

More than 14,000 images – dating from the earliest days of photography in the 1840s through to the 1940s – have been jointly acquired with support from the Scottish Government, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund.

The collection covers an expansive range of subjects – including:

  • family portraits
  • working life
  • street scenes
  • sporting pursuits
  • shops
  • trams
  • tenements

The collection was put together by photography enthusiast Murray MacKinnon, who established a successful chain of film-processing stores in the 1980s, starting from his pharmacy in Dyce, near Aberdeen.

He said: “The collection covers the day-to-day lives of Scottish people both rich and poor, the work they carried out including fishing and farming, in order to survive, and their social life including sport and leisure. These were turbulent times what with industrialisation, shipbuilding, new forms of transport, the social upheaval caused by the First World War in Europe and the Boer War in South Africa. The discovery of penicillin and radiography heralded the development of medicine and the pharmaceutical industry in Scotland.

“I would like to thank all the people involved in acquiring this collection for the Scottish nation, and for their great efforts in making this acquisition possible.”

The photographs provide a visual record of how Scotland has changed physically, socially and economically since the 1840s. Highlights include:

  • More than 600 original photographs from the pioneering days of photography featuring work from David Octavius Hill (1802-1870) and Robert Adamson (1821-1848), James Ross (d.1878) and John Thomson (d.1881), Cosmo Innes (1798-1874) and Horatio Ross (1801-1886)
  • Some of the finest work of Thomas Annan (1829-1887) and his son, James Craig Annan (1864-1946) including rare examples of their original albumen prints
  • Fine examples of the work of Scotland’s successful commercial photographers including George Washington Wilson (1823-1893) and James Valentine (1815-1880)
  • Portraits of Scottish regiments from the Crimean War by Roger Fenton (1819-1869)
  • A series of albums and prints depicting life in the main towns and cities from the late 1800s and early 1900s
  • Studies of farming and fishing communities in remote villages and hamlets    
  • Scenes of shipbuilding, railways, herring fishing, weaving, whisky distilling, dockyards, slate quarries and other working environments

The collection contains an exquisite view of Loch Katrine by William Henry Fox Talbot, who travelled to Scotland in the autumn of 1844. Talbot was the inventor of the calotype, a negative-positive paper process that was patented around the world, but, importantly not in Scotland, allowing for free use and experimentation. As a result, early Scottish photographers, such as Hill and Adamson and Ross and Thomson, were encouraged to take up the new technology, becoming key figures in developing its potential as both document and art form within its first two decades.

A major exhibition of the MacKinnon collection will be held at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery next year, with touring exhibitions around the country to follow. The entire collection will also be digitised over the next three years and made available online. #Scotlandsphotos

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