The Great Exhibition was held in the Crystal Palace at
Hyde Park, London, in 1851. It included a Photography Section with
examples of the recently invented collodion process. This opened
up photography to a wider public.
Over the next few years, photographic societies opened
in various cities around Britain, including:
- Leeds 1852
- London *
- Manchester 1855
- Edinburgh **
* This society became the Royal
** This society was named The Photographic Society of Scotland.
Both Professional and Amateur photographers joined the
Photographic Society of Scotland. Many of the latter were wealthy.
Prince Albert became Patron of the PSS.
Sir David Brewster became President.
Horatio Ross became Vice President
The society held lectures, exhibitions and
photographic outings. Here is one of their outings to Craigmillar
Castle. Note the large cameras and top hats.
Awarded an Arts Degree by Edinburgh University
editor of the Edinburgh Magazine, later
Scots Magazine, aged 20.
Editor of Encyclopaedia Britannica
for 22 years
Photographic Society of Scotland
President of Royal Society of
of Edinburgh University,
from age 78 until his death, 9 years later.
Self portrait, preparing a collodion
Horatio Ross was born in
Named after his godfather,
Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson.
He was a wealthy
1832-34: MP for Arbroath.
Won the first steeplechase on record.
Represented Scotland at shooting.
He once walked from the Dee to Inverness,
97 miles without stopping
Horatio Ross and his wife were both photographers.
Here are some photos taken by his wife in the Scottish Highlands.
These seem to me to give a good impression of hunting and fishing in the
Their first PSS exhibition in 1856 attracted 1,050 prints and
Press reports show how the public and the press still regarded
photography with some astonishment, even seventeen years after its discovery.
Here are some extracts from press:
"Another Exhibition has opened to delight our pleasure-loving Auld Reekieites
who are noted as dillettántí and Fine-Art rhapsodists.
appears scarcely less marvellous than the electric telegraph."
[Caledonian Mercury 22 December 1856]
"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]
The Courant included some poetry when it commented on
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]
The Daily Scotsman also include a poem:
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.”
Daily Scotsman: 31 January 1857]
Photos for Sale
Some of the exhibitors offered to sell copies of the prints
that they exhibited. In the 1856 PSS Exhibition:
- George Washington Wilson sold 40 prints at 10d each
(equivalent to £4 each now).
- Henry Peach Robinson sold 57 prints at prices ranging
3 shillings to 15 shillings each (equivalent to £14 to £70 each now).
Henry Peach Robinson composition pictures - i.e. pictures that
used multiple negatives to create the
images that he wanted. Here are some of his results:
Composition pictures (where several different negatives were
used to make a print) were somewhat controversial in the 1850s, some
photographers believing them to be 'cheating'.
But this photo, produced from 32 negatives by OG Rejlander and
submitted to the Photographic Society of Scotland's 1857 Exhibition, was more
controversial than most.
O G Rejlander considered his photography to be
Fine Art, and his photo had been highly praised when exhibited in Manchester.
However, the PSS Hanging Committee declined it because of its
semi-nude female figures.
The Daily Express was vexed with the decision and
“O G Rejlander's
‘Two Ways of Life’ was exhibited in the Art Treasures Exhibition in Manchester.The Prince Consort has three copies of it.
Sir David Brewster, the President has one copy.It will scarcely be credited that the amateur ‘hanging committee’ of PSS
rejected it because there were half-draped female figures in it.
Call at Mr
Wood’s, 88 Princes Street, where
the rejected photograph may be seen.”
A compromise may have been reached. I have
read a report that the picture was displayed with one half hidden behind a
draped cloth, though I'm not sure where it was on display in this way.
Professional photographers tried for more
representation on the 'Hanging Committee', but were not successful, so they began
to hold their own informal meetings.
In 1861, together with a number of amateur
photographers, they formed Edinburgh Photographic Society. The
earlier society, The Photographic Society of Scotland, then began to go into decline
Incidentally, the Royal Photographic Society held
a competition in 2009, inviting entrants to create a modern equivalent of
Rejlander's 'Two Ways of Life'.
This was the winning entry, submitted by Dan
Ponting who graduated from Bath Spa University in 2008. Dan used himself
as the model throughout his picture. He used Photoshop to put the
different elements of the picture together, and titled it 'Self(ish)
Here are 'Two Ways of Life' and 'Self(ish)
EPS has held annual exhibitions since 1861.
Photos have been selected by a panel of photographers and sometimes
artists. The first Exhibition, in 1861, when EPS was only six
weeks old, included more than 700 prints.
Now, up to 4,000 prints are received annually, from
which about 200 are selected and hung on the walls.
Here are the selectors for the 1936 exhibition at
work. They included the artist Tom Curr on the right.
1936 Open Exhibition
Judges: Alexander Highly, J Campbell Harper, Tom