|Dates: ||1833 - 1883|
|Active: ||Great Britain / Scotland|
Rodger worked as a chemistry assistant to Dr. John Adamson at the University of St Andrews, becoming a master of calotype photography. He then spent two years in Glasgow studying medicine.
In 1849, when he was just 16, Adamson persuaded him to drop the medicine and open the first photographic studio in St Andrews. His studio is now home to the University Careers Office. Mentored by Brewster and Adamson, with their wide social contacts, success was assured.
He presented his work at nearly all the early photographic exhibitions, commencing with a medal at the Aberdeen Mechanics Institute in 1853 for his calotype portraits and landscapes. Regarded as one of the best portraitists in Scotland, he was not a prolific stereo-photographer, but did take several early stereoviews of the local area.
Biography taken, with permission, from: Peter Blair, 2018, Scotland in 3D, (P3DB Publishing)
The St. Andrews studio of “Thomas Rodger, Calotypist” was a commercial manifestation of the fertile photographic experimentation that had taken place in this university town. A native of St. Andrews, Rodger apprenticed to a chemist at fourteen and then became an assistant to John Adamson in the chemical classes at the university. Adamson taught him calotypy, and he experimented on his own with the daguerreotype. Not seeing a financial future in photography, Rodger spent two sessions at Glasgow studying medicine. He returned to St. Andrews just after Adamson’s younger brother, Robert, died, and Adamson persuaded Rodger to give up medicine to become a calotypist. Rodger had become known as “the adept,” who “to all capable of understanding it, explained the wonderful art,” the St. Andrews Citizen later wrote. With his social contacts established and his reputation secure, Rodger set up his own photographic studio, at the young age of sixteen. Curious artists who visited his studio to see the new art freely disclosed their own secrets, and Rodger’s artistic sensibilities grew to match his chemical mastery. In 1853, at the Mechanics’ Institution exhibition in Aberdeen, Rodger showed a number of calotype views of St. Andrews and many calotype portraits, for which he received a medal. Starting with the 1854 Photographic Society exhibition in London, he showed work entirely in collodion. He exhibited profusely and regularly in all the major exhibitions through 1864. Rodger proudly carried on with the label “calotypist,” surely out of respect for his early roots in the art. Nearly three hundred townsfolk turned out for his funeral. “His manners were as pleasing as his photographs were admirable,” according to his obituary in the British Journal of Photography: Rodger had been “gifted with very refined tastes and high intellectual powers,” ones he used well as “from early boyhood a great admirer of all that was grand, noble, and beautiful, both in nature and art.”
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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