1.  Background

2.  Questions

3.  Obituaries




James Millar Mackay

EPS Member

J M Mackay appeared in the Edinburgh trade directories as  a photographer from 1872 to 1874, and then became an artist.

However, the subjects of his lectures to EPS suggest that his photographic business began several years before 1872.

- 1868:  The Construction of the Glass house for Portraiture

- 1870:  A few remarks on Backgrounds

Lectures to EPS

In the first of his two lectures to EPS, James M Mackay spoke of the importance of light and capturing expressions.  He said:

"Excellence does not consist in the mere fact of being able to procure an image of the sitter .... Unless we have secured the characteristic expression belonging to the individual, the negative becomes utterly valueless."

He recommended all four sides of the studio glazed, allow sufficient light throughout the year.  This would allow an almost instantaneous picture to be taken in the summer, so abandoning the headrest altogether.  In the winter, he estimated that an exposure of eight to ten seconds would be needed.   He added:

"We all know that in the latter season of the year becomes so enfeebled by the vapours and fogs by which we are almost constantly surrounded , it is almost impossible to take a perfect negative, especially in large commercial cities."

[BJP 1868,  p.519]


Thank you to John Humphrey, Toronto, Canada, who followed up the point above about J M Mackay's photography before he appeared in the Edinburgh trade directories in 1872

John sent me a copy of an advert that appeared in the Kilmarnock Weekly Post on 14 March 1863, showing that J M Mackay had been a photographer in Ayrshire for several years before opening his studio in Edinburgh.

The advert is interesting, showing the price for cartes de visite when sold singly, by the half-dozen or by the dozen.

MACKAY, James M. Artist

has opened photographic apartments at 47 Bank Street.

 Cartes de visite, &c.

ccdv:   singles    2/6d
                    6             5s
                  12             8s

Advert Kilmarnock Weekly Post 14.3.1863:

John Humphrey found this advert on on Rob Close's web site:

Name and Date of Birth

Thank you, also, to John Humphrey for the following details:

"J M Mackay's full name was James Millar Mackay.

He was born 14th April 1834 in Kilmarnock to Adam McKay and Agnes Millar.  His brother, Alexander Sutherland McKay was born 29th March 1832 in Kilmarnock"

The photographer's middle name, Millar, was new to me as it did not appear in the trade directories.]

John Humphrey has provided further details of other photographers in his Humphrey family:

-  his great grandfather, Kilmarnock photographer John Humphrey.

-  his grandfather, the Wick photogrpaher, John Gemmell Humphrey.  

If you can provide any further information, please e-mail me and I will pass on your comment to John .  Thank you.




John Humphrey asked:


Alexander Sutherland Mackay

"I am interested in another Kilmarnock portraitist, Alexander Sutherland Mackay, possibly the brother of James M Mackay, who moved to Edinburgh about 1870 and lived at 13 Cornwall Street for at least the next twelve years.

A S Mackay was married to Janet Gemmell of Kilmarnock, whose sister, Mary Gemmell, married John Humphrey, a Kilmarnock photographer (in business from about 1860 until his death in 1889).  The latter was my great-grandfather."


George Ritchie Mackay and James M Mackay

Was James M Mackay related to George R Mackay?


Thank you to Alan Mackay for the following message:

"I have done a quick search and reckon that it is unlikely they James M Mackay and George R Mackay were related to each other.  They certainly weren't father and son.

George Ritchie Mackay was born in Edinburgh 10/11/1870.  His parents were John Mackay and Euphemia Meiklejohn Ritchie."

Alan Mackay (above) did not initially believe that he is related to the Mackay photographers.  However, he subsequently wrote in Feb 2005:'

"I've just looked back at some of my family history.  When my great grandfather and his wife had their first child (Nov 1901) their address is 70 Leith Walk. This is also their address in the 1901 Census

The address of George Ritchie Mackay's studio from 1916 was 70 Leith Walk."

Alan Mackay is great grandson of Hugh Mackay who owned the Palace Hotel on Princes Street/corner of Castle Street and was also a President of the Clan Mackay Society.




Thank you to John Humphrey for providing obituaries, from the Kilmarnock Standard (1898 and 1917) from which the following extracts have been taken.

Alexander Sutherland Mackay

-  Alexander S Mackay was a well known portrait painter.

-  He died at 13 Cornwall Street in July 1898.

-  He belonged to a highland family, long settled in Kilmarnock.

-  He was the eldest of several brothers.

-  He moved to Edinburgh to gain a thorough art training.

-  In 1850, he joined the School of Design at the Board of Manufacturers.

-  He remained in Edinburgh, painting portraits.

-  He contributed to RSA Exhibitions

Kilmarnock Standard, July 23, 1898, p.5

James Millar Mackay

-  James M Mackay was a native of Kilmarnock.

-  He was brother of late Alexander Sutherland Mackay.

-  He died at 52 Morningside Rd, Edinburgh, in November 1917, aged 83.

-  He studied art at the Board of Manufacture in Edinburgh

-  He returned to KIlmarnock and taught drawing for several years.

-  He took up photography and erected a glass house.

-  He returned to Edinburgh and worked for Ross & Thomson for >20 yrs.

-  Following a severe illness, he turned to landscape painting.

-  He contributed to RSA Exhibitions

Kilmarnock Standard, November 10, 1917


George Ritchie Mackay