Vintage: Edinburgh, Scotland in Calotype (1840s)

Vintage: Edinburgh, Scotland in Calotype (1840s)


David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson were a pair of Scottish photographers working in the 1840s. They are best known for their wonderful portraits, but over the course of their sadly short partnership (Adamson died only five years in, aged 27) they also created quite a few city views. This blog has previously featured a selection of their photographs of St. Andrews, Adamson’s hometown; today is Edinburgh, the city in which they worked. At a time when most photographers worked with daguerreotypes, Hill and Adamson used the negative-positive process, creating negatives on paper (calotypes) which could then be printed on salted paper. The Special Collections at the University of Glasgow holds large numbers of their original negatives, and their online collection provides digitally reversed positive images.

The photographs are wonderful not only as some of the earliest views of a beautiful city, but for the aesthetic of the early paper negative. Even with skill level like Hill and Adamson’s, the process was still highly unpredictable. The photographs are imperfect–which, I feel, is ultimately a testament to the incredible fact of their existence.

View of the Mound, 1843. Inverted negative--the writing in the sky is a watermark in the paper, made visible by the process of negative scanning.

View of the Mound, 1843. Inverted negative–the writing in the sky is a watermark in the paper, made visible by the process of negative scanning.

A view of the Old Town.

A view of the Old Town.

View from Calton Hill, after October 1844.

View from Calton Hill, after October 1844.

The National Commerical Bank, George Street. The photographers' inscription of the negative notes the exposure time--thirty minutes.

The National Commerical Bank, George Street. The photographers’ inscription of the negative notes the exposure time–thirty minutes.

View of the New Town from Calton Hill, after October 1844.

View of the New Town from Calton Hill, after October 1844.

The Old Town, 1843.

The Old Town, 1843.

View from Calton Hill.

View from Calton Hill.

via The Passion of Former Days


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