|Dates: ||1832 - 1922|
|Active: ||Africa / Crimea|
Scottish by birth, Kirk was elected a fellow of the Edinburgh Botanical Society while still an undergraduate. Taking his medical degree in 1854, he then volunteered for medical service in the Crimean War. He probably had begun photographing during his student days, for while in the Crimea Kirk took calotype negatives of a hospital ward at Renkioi and the various amenities of camp life. Following his return in 1857 he was on the verge of moving to Canada when he was offered the position of medical officer and botanist for Dr. David Livingston’s second expedition to Zambezi. Livingston’s brother Charles was the official photographer, but Kirk considered him hopeless, especially in his choice of the wet-collodion process. Observing the noxious fumes emanating from Charles Livingston’s dark tent, Kirk wrote in his journal on July 8, 1858: “I don’t anticipate much to come of the Photography. I certainly believe, as I said in London, that the paper process is the only one which at present is worth taking on an expedition such as this.” And he was correct, for virtually none of Charles Livingston’s photographs were successful. Kirk took numerous waxed-paper negatives during the expedition, including the first significant views of the interior of Africa and studies of unusual botanical specimens, but he was also impressed with Dr. Hill Norris’s new dry plates. He remained loyal to waxed paper as late as 1862, finding it even more forgiving in difficult circumstances than he had previously thought. Dr. Kirk moved to Zanzibar in 1866, serving there as a medical officer for two decades, but nothing is known of his photographic activity during this period.
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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