Robert Adamson


St Andrews

The Adamson family lived in St Andrews in Fife, Scotland in the early 1840s.  Robert Adamson might have pursued a career as an engineer, but was thought not to be strong enough so John, his brother, instructed him in the new calotype photographic process in 1841-42.  

This process had been introduced to a small group in St Andrews, including the Adamsons, through David Brewster's ongoing contact with Talbot.  It took about a year of constant experimenting in St Andrews before the group had any real success with Talbot's calotype process.


Rock House

   Rock House studio  -  1870s

In 1843, Robert Adamson moved to Rock House, Calton Hill, Edinburgh.  One of the first photographs he took in Edinburgh was of the Royal High School on 17 May 1843.

Soon after, he met and entered into partnership with David Octavius Hill.  Hill, a painter, provided the artistic input to the partnership and was probably responsible for bringing most of the sitters to Rock House, where portraits were taken on a sheltered south-facing back lawn behind the house on high ground above Regent Road.

The work of Hill & Adamson is covered on the DO Hill pages on this web site.  Hill was the artist and probably responsible for bringing most of the sitters to Rock House studio. 

ADDRESS:  The address of Rock House was  given as 28 Calton Hill in some directories.

A Secret Ingredient?

Robert Adamson provided the technical input to the partnership.  He is known to have experimented with his chemicals.  Typically three different photographs might be taken of a subject to increas the chance of getting a successful result, both artistically and technically.  On at least one occasion the three prints from a sitting are known to have been processed in different chemicals.
[Sara Stevenson, September 2004]

Neither Hill nor Adamson commented on the chemicals or process used to produce their chemicals.  There has been speculation that Adamson might have had a 'secret' ingredient in his chemistry.  Hill remarked on one occasion:  "Mr Adamson thinks he knows some things that others do not."

The Royal Scottish Museum is carrying out a non-destructive analysis of some of Hill & Adamson's early images in order to discover how they were created.  To date [September 2004] the results suggest that Adamson experimented with different chemicals; but no secret ingredient has been found.

Most of the Hill & Adamson calotypes were produced between 1843 and 1846.  Robert Adamson returned to St Andrews in ill health in 1847, and died in early 1848, aged twenty-six.


Adamson  -  studio addresses and dates


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