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Hill & Adamson

Text from Michael Frizot, A New History of Photography

During the years 1843-1847, however, the calotype achieved only partial success, limited as it was by technical constraints and Talbot's patent restrictions. Calotypists were drawn from a circle close to the inventor - prominent people, scientists, and artists, rather than commercial practitioners.

The first important users of the process were two Scotsmen, David 0. Hill and Robert Adamson in Edinburgh. Adamson, who was introduced to the calotype through the influence of his brother and David Brewster of St. Andrew's University, is said to have opened a portrait studio in 1843 (encouraged by Talbot, who had not taken out a patent for Scotland). It seems that it was following a meeting in Edinburgh of the Church of Scotland, then splitting from its English counterpart, that the painter Hill contacted Adamson with a view to taking portraits for a great commemorative painting of the event.

Their collaboration, in which they shared technical and artistic responsibilities, was to last until Adamson's premature death in January 1848, much longer than they had foreseen. Individuals or groups posed in the open air (the process was slow, and required the subjects to remain completely still for one or two minutes in full daylight), in a natural setting embellished with curtains, tables, flowers, and other "props".

Hill and Adamson, (who signed their photographs jointly as "executed by R. Adamson under the artistic direction of D. 0. Hill"), did not limit themselves to simple portraits. They dreamed up compositions, going into villages to photograph fishermen or photographing masons working on the Scott Monument. From the outset, Hill and Adamson created a distinctive photographic style, thus demonstrating that in expert hands the process could achieve perfection. Unlike other artists, they did not see themselves as social observers, restricting themselves to a picturesque approach, often agreed in advance.

In four years, these pioneers of location photography produced at least 3,000 photographs, some of which were published as albums or sold as individual prints.


 


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