Hay was a partner with his father in a frame-making and picture-restoring business in Aberdeen; J. & J. Hay sold artists’ materials and a range of scientific and optical instruments. Undoubtedly the young man had taken notice of customers coming in asking for supplies for the new art of photography, because sometime before 1853 John Jr. opened a calotype portrait studio. The new calotypist seems to have attracted a steady flow of interested customers, for he soon received a testimonial from John Philip, a prominent local painter, who opined in the Aberdeen Journal that Hay’s portraits “are most faithful — so true to nature, and the treatment admirable as to tasteful arrangement, &c. Indeed, as far as I am able to judge, many of them are equal to Delamotte, and other noted London practitioners of this delightful and most useful art.” In September 1853 Hay approached his old friend George Washington Wilson, and a partnership was soon formed. Wilson & Hay contributed to the 1853 exhibition of the Aberdeen Mechanics’ Institution, displaying calotype portraits, some hand colored, and landscapes. In March 1854, Queen Victoria commissioned the firm to photograph the construction of Balmoral Castle. With royal patronage, the business flourished, the firm offering portraits, landscapes, views of “Gentleman’s Seats,” and stereo views, as well as chemicals, cameras, and lessons in photography. By the time of the 1854 exhibition of the Royal Infirmary Fund in Dundee, Wilson & Hay had converted completely to wet collodion. Hay’s family went bankrupt in January 1855, prematurely ending his partnership with Wilson, and as far as is known Hay took no more photographs.
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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