|Dates: ||1816 - ?|
The Edinburgh firm of Ross & Thomson was among the most widely admired photographic businesses in the 1850s. However, Ross had made his own reputation before he met John Thomson. A native of Aberdeenshire, Thomson established himself as a portrait painter in Edinburgh about 1840, and by 1844 he had expanded his offerings to landscapes. In about 1842 Ross began experimenting with the calotype in conjunction with Robert Bishop, a chemist friend, and was appalled to find his
first print literally fading in his hands soon after he developed it. Months of hard work followed until he had mastered the process. In 1846, just as Robert Adamson was nearing the end of his short life, Ross established his calotype stu-dio in the National Monument on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. Ross then formed a partnership with Thomson, offering calotype and daguerreotype portraits, plain and colored, and views of gentlemen’s mansions, as well as instructions, apparatus, and supplies. At first the two men retained separate identities, with Thomson listed as the daguerreotypist and Ross as the calotypist. By 1848 they had moved to Princes Street and from that point their firm flourished, espe-cially after being appointed in 1849 “Photographers to the Queen in Scotland,” the first to be so named. By 1851, Ross & Thomson was simply listed as a firm of calotypists. This can be misleading in the literature, for by then, although it paid a proud nod to the Talbotype label, it employed mostly albumen on glass negatives to great public acclaim. The firm exhibited prolifically and constantly, starting with the Great Exhibition in 1851 through to the 1864 Photographic Society exhibition in London, but none of the exhibited work was from paper negatives. Ross was a genial fellow who had a reputation among his peers for an intense love of art and constant striving for perfection. He was appointed a member of the council of the Photographic Society of Scotland and participated actively in their meetings. In later years, because Ross had kept his old financial ledgers, he was able to recall in detail orders from printsellers, Charles Piazzi Smyth and many others; in 1849 Ross had paid for a series of lessons in calotype. As Thomson started to ease himself into retirement, the firm took on Thomas Pringle and eventually became Ross & Pringle. Ross retired in 1878, turning his business over to Pringle, and disappeared from the photographic scene.
Roger Taylor & Larry J. Schaaf Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007)
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is included here with permission.
Date last updated: 4 Nov 2012.
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