Calotype Project

Creative Calotypes – Victorian Visionaries

As part of our celebration of the YPS bicentennial in 2022, we formed a group working with York Museums Trust (YMT) and York Explore (YE – formerly York Central Library) to run a project in Museum Gardens, York throughout September and October 2019. The core project was an exhibition of a selection of photographs taken  at a conference which took place in York 175 years ago, when photography was in its infancy.

These very early photographs were called calotypes.  They were taken by the important Scottish photographers D O Hill and R Adamson, and we displayed large weather-proof copies of some of them in interesting places in and around Museum Gardens. We  included some nationally important scientists, a number of characters who were important to York and the YPS, and some colourful characters – an ex whaling captain, and a mounted coastguard – think Cornish smugglers…

Supporting Events

We also wanted to provoke interest and discussion about the many ways in which photography has been used over time, and is increasing in importance in all our lives. To do this, YPS and our partners YMT and YE put on a programme of talks and activities. In addition to hosting the display in the gardens, YMT mounted a display about early photography in the foyer of the Yorkshire Museum, and arranged a curator’s talk and a children’s half-term activity. YPS  arranged a number of lectures, including one by Anne Lyden, the Chief Curator of Photography at the National Galleries of Scotland, where these wonderful photos are kept, and several Cafe Sci presentations. YE devoted some of their popular ‘Mint Yard Lectures’ to this theme, and put on a workshop ‘Caring for your old Photographs’ and a children’s activity on the cyanotype, another early photographic technique. To demonstrate how much has changed in the last 175 years, and how science can now provide an exciting career for people of all types, we approached many young scientists, and asked them for photographs and short biographies. These were displayed on an ‘interactive table’ in York Explore.

To learn more about the photographers and their subjects

Clicking on the first item in the ‘red list’ on the left of the page, ‘1844 – How it all Happened’,  will take you to a page of information about the photographers D O Hill and R Adamson, and how these photographs came to be taken. Clicking on the remaining items in the list will give you short biographical items on the sitters.

To learn more about calotypes, and the science and history of photography

Click here:- The calotype and its place in the development of photography.

We would like to acknowledge the support of


Margaret Leonard 20/11/2019

Image credits

Portraits in the banner above are all calotypes taken by David Octavius Hill (1802-1870) & Robert Adamson (1821-1848) and licensed from the National Galleries of Scotland. From L to R :- 

Title:-‘Called Sir John Frederick William Herschel, 1792 – 1871. Astronomer’

Title:-‘Rev. Dr William Scoresby, 1789 – 1857. Whaler, Scientist and Arctic explorer [b]’

Title:- ‘Charles William Peach, 1800 – 1886. Coastguard; naturalist and geologist’

Title:-‘Sir Henry Thomas De La Beche, 1796 – 1855’

The images behind the banner portraits are:-

The New Museum with Part of the Ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, York, N. Whittock, 1829.  YPS & St. Mary’s Abbey Gateway, Thomas Rowlandson, 1801. Image YMT