PSS -  In Decline and Winding Up

In Decline

There was a scaling down of PSS activity in the years following the formation of the Edinburgh Photographic Society (EPS) in 1861.

Very few new Members joined PSS after 1860.    At its 7th AGM on 13 May 1862, when the death of its Patron, HRH the Prince Consort was reported, the Society appeared to have lost much of its enthusiasm of earlier years.  It reported:

“An idea [is] generally prevalent that has also affected other Photographic Societies that the object for which it was instituted has now to a large extent been fulfilled and that the interest of the Meetings, and the usefulness of the Society, will be particularly nugatory until some new and important discovery is made in one or other of the departments of the Art”

“The Monthly Meetings have not been so successful as might have been expected in a Society holding so high a position, and involving among its Members so many ardent Photographers.”

It was agreed that meetings should be reduced to three per year. 

The decline continued.  A few years later, it was agreed that, from 1867 onwards, no further annual subscriptions would be collected, and it was left to the Council to summon Members together when there was any subject of importance to communicate to them.

Winding Up 

A special meeting was called, in 1871, to consider suggestions from the Council for winding up the affairs of the Society.  The Council recommend:

1st    That the Society now be dissolved

2nd    That Mr Fox Talbot be requested to sit for his portrait, to be presented by the Society to the National Gallery of Scotland

3rd    That a picture be purchased with the remainder of the Funds, to be presented to the National Gallery

The meeting resulted in a number of counter-proposals as to how the funds might best be used.  Suggestions included:

  • Portraits of men in connection with Photography should be executed and deposited for posterity in the National Gallery.

  • A Bursary or Prize for discoveries in connection with Photographic Chemistry or Photographic Optics.

  • Annual Photographic Exhibitions in the Rooms of the Royal Scottish Academy.

  • Funds to be handed over to the Royal Infirmary.

None of the above met with general approval. 

Even the Photographic Society of London had ideas on how the PSS funds might be used.

When he heard of that PSS was to be wound up, the Honorary Secretary of the London society wrote to PSS.  He referred to the long connection of the two Societies, and to the fact that it was the Journal of the Photographic Society that had, for several years, published the reports of PSS proceedings.  He wrote:

“Now that the policy of dissolution is being discussed and a question arises about the disposal of your surplus balance, it occurs to us to offer a suggestion that we should receive into our Society as ‘Life Members’ some twenty (or a number hereafter determined) Members of the Photographic Society of Scotland, and with the balance of the fund institute two ‘Scottish Medals’ to be given annually for Excellence in Portraiture and Landscape.”

The Final Vote

After all the worthy suggestions above, it was disappointing to discover that it took a further two years for final agreement to be reached on disposal of the funds.  

Out of 54 members, 31 votes were cast in a secret vote and by a majority of 17 to 14 it was agreed to distribute the funds, amongst the surviving Members in proportion to the subscriptions they had paid.

There had been sixty-nine PSS Members in 1865.  Many were old and in ill health.  Only fifty survived until 1873. 

The funds which then amounted to £208 11s 0d were shared.

Twenty-two of the recipients had been Members since 1856, the year the society was founded.   They each received £6 17s 11d.  The remaining 28 Members receives smaller amounts.


Reason for Disbandment of PSS

Thank you to Richard Cormack for providing this interesting extract from the PSS Minutes.

Richard wrote:

"The final sentence in the final Minute Book of the Photographic Society of Scotland gives the stated reason for society's disbandment.

I may not be word perfect, but it was to the effect that 'everything that can be discovered about photography is already known'."

Richard Cormack, St Andrews, Fife:  March 18, 2010

NOTE:  Richard Cormack is a former President of Edinburgh Photographic Society (1971-72).

He is the person who collected the trunk of Photographic Society of Scotland material from the printers moving out of the Royal Mile.