What’s on : Lectures

A Perfect Chemistry: Hill and Adamson’s Use of the Calotype Process

1 Oct 2019
Start time
7:30 PM
Tempest Anderson Hall
Anne M. Lyden, Chief Curator, Photography, National Galleries of Scotland
A Perfect Chemistry: Hill and Adamson's Use of the Calotype Process

Event Information

A Perfect Chemistry: Hill & Adamson’s use of the Calotype Process

Anne M. Lyden, Chief Curator, Photography
National Galleries of Scotland

In 1843 David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson entered into a photographic partnership in Edinburgh that would forever change the history of photography. Anne Lyden, Chief Curator of Photography at the National Galleries of Scotland, will discuss this dynamic duo and their innovative use of the calotype process.

Lecture programme mini theme: Photography

Creative Calotypes Project

Member’s report

The catalyst for the partnership of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson was the 1843 declaration of independence by the Free Church of Scotland. David Hill, a painter, wanted to honour the more than 400 signatories to the “deed of demission” with a large group portrait – a logistically complex task.

Robert Adamson, suffering from ill health, had taken up photography as a less taxing career than engineering. His older brother John, who had made the first calotype, taught him the process and in 1843 he set up his studio at Rock House, at the foot of Calton Hill in Edinburgh.

John Adamson’s colleague, Sir David Brewster, who had corresponded with Fox Talbot about the new calotype technique, introduced Hill to Robert Adamson. Hill quickly realised that the high quality of the calotype images removed the need for each individual to sit for a painted portrait. He moved into Rock House and between 1843 and the early death of Adamson, aged 26 in 1848, the pair produced over 3,000 calotypes. Their images included portraits of friends, fishing families, steam trains and the changing views of Edinburgh. The National Galleries of Scotland hold a major collection of their work.

Catherine Brophy



The portraits on this page are licensed from the National Galleries of Scotland.