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Hill & Adamson
Elizabeth Johnstone, Seated Newhaven Fishwife
21.27 x 15.87 cm (8 3/8 x 6 1/4 ins) (image)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Purchased with funds given by David Bakalar, Accession no: 1974.469
The early history of photography in Edinburgh is distinguished by the remarkable partnership between the painter David Octavius Hill and the engineer Robert Adamson, who brought Talbot's calotype, or paper negative, process to an artistic summit. The quiet dignity of this portrait of Elizabeth Johnstone, from Hill and Adamson's documentary series on the Scottish fishing village of Newhaven, is due in part to certain characteristics of the calotype process. The grainy paper negative eliminated excessive detail and shaped a monumental figure out of broad areas of light and shadow. Showing the strain of the long exposure, the sitter supports herself against the stack of picturesque baskets, her eyes downcast. Her sculptural serenity is enlivened by the conflicting stripes of the skirts and aprons of her regional costume, an effect repeated in the sparkling pattern of the rough woven baskets.