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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Robert Adamson

Names:
Other: R. Adamson 
Joint: Hill & Adamson 
Dates:  1821, 26 April - 1848, 18 January
Born:  Great Britain, Scotland, St. Andrews
Active:  Scotland
 
  
Scottish photographer who worked with David Octavius Hill.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Robert Adamson
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

 
  
The son of a tenant farmer at Burnside, in his youth Adamson excelled at mathematics in nearby St. Andrews. His facility with mechanics indicated a promising career in engineering, but fragile health barred this path. In 1839 his older brother John Adamson eagerly took up photography with Sir David Brewster, and Robert soon followed into the rapidly developing world of this new art. By the summer of 1842 Brewster reported to Talbot that the young man was becoming highly accomplished in calotypy. On May 10, 1843, Robert established Scotland’s first calotype studio, in Rock House on the side of Edinburgh’s Calton Hill. The timing proved fortuitous, for nine days later the Disruption took place in the Church of Scotland, when more than four hundred ministers were separated from their livings for forming the Free Church of Scotland. It was through David Octavius Hill’s ambition to commemorate this event in a painting that calotypy took its first real foothold in the public consciousness. With Hill facing the impossibility of rapidly recording hundreds of ministers before they dispersed throughout Scotland, Brewster suggested Adamson’s photography as a facile way to make preliminary “sketches” of the clergymen. The partnership of Adamson and Hill blossomed from this initial collaboration, and their calotypes, originally intended only as drafts, began to take on a life of their own. The partners’ reputation grew rapidly and their subject matter soon extended into general portraiture, architecture, and social documentation. Within a year, Rock House had become the aesthetic center of paper negative photography in the mid-1840s, certainly in Britain, perhaps in the world. The pair completed at least three thousand calotypes before Adamson’s chronic ill health finally asserted itself. He died in St. Andrews on January 14, 1848, at the age of twenty-seven. Hill continued in photography, but he never again achieved the creative heights that he had in his work with Adamson. 
  
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. 
  
SHARED BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION PROJECT 
  
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
 
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.
 
  

Further research

 
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Hill & Adamson
Robert Adamson 
1845
 
  
Family history 
  
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch. 
  
alan@luminous-lint.com
 
  
 
  

Visual indexes

 
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Internet biographies

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online (www.groveart.com) has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
Show on this siteGo to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.]Show on this siteGo to website
The International Photographers Hall of Fame has provided a biography.Show on this siteGo to website
 

Internet resources

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Hill & Adamson 
http://www.geh.org ... 
  
 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

 
• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
  
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.38 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
  
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.249 
  
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Robert Adamson.] 
  
• Weaver, Mike (ed.) 1989 The Art of Photography 1839-1989 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) p.458 [This exhibition catalogue is for the travelling exhibition that went to Houston, Canberra and London in 1989.] 
  
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.67 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 
  
 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

 
• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.250 
  
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.24-25 
  
• Naef, Weston 2004 Photographers of Genius at the Getty (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) [For this photographer there is a description and three sample photographs from the Getty collection. p.28-31] 
  
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Robert Adamson are included in this classic history.] 
  
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.16 [Analyzes a single photograph by Robert Adamson.] 
  

Collections

Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 
  

 
In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Robert Adamson was represented in 52 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 
  
Library of Congress, Washington, USA 
  
Approximate number of records: ? 
Note: A single record may contain more than one photograph.
Click here
 
  
 
  
 
  
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