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PSS - 1st Exhibition

December 1856

1,050 Prints

The first annual exhibition opened in December 1856, and was widely reported in the Press.  Several quotes appear below.

1,050 photos were exhibited, including a wide variety of processes - glass, waxed paper, collodion, albumen and daguerreotypes, calotypes.  

There were:

  • 77 calotypes by Hill & Adamson.  

  • Photolithographs of Venice by MacPherson of Rome

  • 22 collodion photos of deer stalking by Vice President Horatio Ross

  • Portraits by Claudet of London

  • Portraits by James Valentine of Dundee

  • Portraits by Rodger of St Andrews 

  • Portraits by Moffat and by Tunny of Edinburgh

  • Daguerreotypes by Ross & Thomson of Edinburgh

  • Collodion landscapes by Fenton of the Photographic Society, London

  • Landscapes by George Washington Wilson, Aberdeen

  • The National Library of Scotland has a catalogue of the 1st PSS Exhibition.

8,000 Visitors

The exhibition attracted 8,000 visitors, and made a profit of £23 9s 11½d, thought the Council declared profit was not their objective.  Their main objects in instituting exhibitions were:

-  to aid in increasing the public taste for Art

-  to afford the Members an opportunity of contrasting their own works with those of their fellow Members, and of photographers at a distance.

This exhibition was held at 60 Hanover Street, next door to the premises of George Waterston, stationer, and very close to the Merchants’ Hall used by EPS to stage its International Photographic Exhibitions in the 1980s and 1990s.

£22 was paid for the use of 60 George Street, and 600 posters were distributed around the City advertising the exhibition. 

Arrangements were made for a good space to be kept for pictures by  Corporal Meek of the Sappers, entered by Prince Albert, the society's Patron, 

Rival Attractions

The PSS Exhibition remained open to the public for several weeks.


Charges for admission

-  10am to 5pm     1/-

-  7pm to 9pm       6d or 3 for 1/-

-  Season ticket      2/6d.


Admission charges were reduced over the New Year holiday period in order to help the PSS compete with rival attractions – such as, in 1856:

  • “The Art  -  The Art Manufacturers’ Exhibition in the New National Galleries -  “After dusk, the Galleries will be brilliantly lighted by gas  -  tapestries, wood carvings, mouldings, &c.”   Admission 1/-:   children 6d.

  • “Promenade at the Zoo” – splendid tigers, African lions, leopards, elephants &c.  Admission 6d:  Children 3d  - Half price charges for the holiday period

Photographs for Sale

Many of the photographs exhibited in the 1st PSS Exhibition were sold, some to PSS.

The Photographic Society of Scotland had originally intended to make copies of the painting 'Pitlessie Fair', by Sir David Wilkie, the only one of his works that had not been made available to the public through the medium of the engraver.  But the society had not been able to produce satisfactory copies.  So, instead, the Council purchased a selection of works from the 1st PSS Exhibition for distribution to all members who had paid their subscription for the year beginning March 1857.

Press Comment
 on the 1st PSS Exhibition

"Another Exhibition has opened to delight our pleasure-loving Auld Reekieites who are noted as dillettántí and Fine-Art rhapsodists.  Photography already appears scarcely less marvellous than the electric telegraph" 

[Caledonian Mercury  22 December 1856]

“The delightful art, whose products are shown in this collection, has made amazing progress within the past year; and nowhere, we venture to affirm, has improvement been more conspicuous and praiseworthy than in Scotland.”

 [The Daily Express, 3 Jan 1857]

"This is a most extraordinary exhibition; and we suspect that very few persons, if any, who have not visited it can have the most remote idea of the immense progress which Photography (or Sun Painting, as some term it) has made during the last few years." 
 [The Edinburgh Evening Reporter & Scottish Record  -  Dec 31, 1856]

We must break off here for want of space, but will only add, for the benefit of our friends now bent on enjoying themselves during this festive season, that should they be induced by anything we or others have said, to spend their shilling or sixpence on a visit to the Edinburgh Photographic Society’s Exhibition, we feel confident that when, the season of festivity past, they sit down quietly, to reckon over their expenses, there will be no one shilling or sixpence of their extravagances which they will be less inclined to wish unspent.

 [Caledonian Mercury  -  Jan 2 1857]

Photography and Art

Most, but not all of the press comment was favourable.  The Daily Express, in particular was critical of attempts by photographers to make their work look more like art.

“Forgetting altogether that they should aim to produce good photographs, photographers have vulgarly striven to produce photographs that would be as like paintings – oil or water colour – as possible.

We have no hesitation in denouncing this as mere pandering to uncultivated tastes and in no respect a thing to be desired.  As we understand it, a painting is one thing and a photograph another, and each has its beauties, its peculiarities and its distinguishing features, separating it widely and most distinctly from the other.”
[Daily Express:  6 Jan 1857]

The Caledonian Mercury made interesting comments on photography and painting

"Painters are almost all now extensive collectors of photographs, and many of them are themselves among our best photographers, some of them being contributors to this Edinburgh Exhibition."

[Caledonian Mercury  -  Jan 2 1857]

The same article went on to say:

"The mere mechanical photographer may make an occasional tolerable hit, which the bad painter can hardly do, but, to produce systematically such pictures as a very considerable proportion of those on the Hanover Street room walls, a man must be gifted with no small portion of those gifts which ought to enter into the composition of a Royal Academician. 

Still, of course, the sun does the larger share of the work, and must carry off the larger share of the praise.

The photographer’s failures and blunders are never so insulting to nature as the painter’s… the coloured monstrosities as we occasionally see in our painting exhibitions"  [Caledonian Mercury: 2 January 1857]

Colouring of the photographs was regarded as an even greater crime.  The article continued:

“In many of these [exhibits] the photographers seem perfectly to understand the bounds and beauties of their art, but in others … we have the most outrageous attempt at colouring conceivable in one or two cases, and singular it is that in this, as in everything else, Glasgow asserts for herself the pre-eminence in vulgarity.” [Daily Express:  6 January 1857]

A notorious instance of colouring mania is to be found in the full-length portrait of a lady in a riding-habit.  … We have merely the statement in the catalogue that it is by the “collodion” process; for we defy any one to say whether it is a photograph or not.

[Daily Express:  6 January 1857] 

Poems in the Press

A poem appeared in The Courant describing the society’s exhibition at 60 Hanover Street ended:

 Old Sol had scarcely spoken thus, when forth I went straightway

   To his Great Exhibition-Room, my shilling there to pay;

   And scarcely had I passed the door, and laid my money down

   When I exclaimed  'A shilling’s worth!  Why this is worth a crown.'

   He really is a painter!  His own account is true.

   I only wish we saw him here far oft’ner than we do.”

     [The Courant  22 January 1857]

A few days later, The Daily Scotsman, on 31 Jan 1857, told its readers of the marvels to be seen at the Exhibition.  It published a poem, 'Temple of the Sun' Here is an extract:

“ But even such a favoured street acquires a new renown,

   And gives a brighter lustre to that corner of the town.

   When day by day both grave and gay are thither seen to run

   With eager anxious haste to seek the Temple of the Sun.”

     [The Daily Scotsman:  31 January 1857]


Other Photographs in Exhibitions


PSS Exhibitions:    Medals    Dates   1st    2nd   3rd   4th   5th   6th   7th   8th   9th  10th