History of Photography in Edinburgh



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Early History

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Cameras +  Photos

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History of Photography in Edinburgh

Talk  at

Old Edinburgh Club

13 November  2013

Talk to Old Edinburgh Club Meeting on 143 November  -  'The History of Photography in Edinburgh' by Peter Stubbs ©




Early History






Edinburgh Castle  -  view from below Ramsay Garden, the Mound

Engraving in 'Modern Athens  -  Edinburgh Castle

©  Copyright: For permission to reproduce, please contact peter.stubbs@edinphoto.org.uk


Even fifty years after the discovery of photography was announced, engravings were being used in books such as 'Old and New Edinburgh', published in 1890.

Opening page of 'Old & New Edinburgh'  -  published 1890

©  Reproduced by courtesy of Jenny Parkerson

  • An artistic sky has been added to the view of Newhaven Harbour below:

Newhaven  from the Pier

Engraving from 'Old & New Edinburgh'  -  Newhaven from the Pier

©  For permission to reproduce, please contact peter.stubbs@edinphoto.org.uk

  • There is a lot of action throughout the view of Granton Harbour below.

  •  All the components have been included and positioned in a way that might not have been so easily achieved with photography.



Until fairly recently, photography was regarded as having begun about 1839.  However, there were experiments by a few individuals in earlier years.

The main problem was not in creating the image through the use of chemicals, but in finding a way to 'fix' the image, i.e. to prevent it from fading quickly on exposure to light.

Here are two individuals who experimented with photography long before 1839:


Thomas Wedgwood (1778-1829) was born into a family of pottery manufacturers from Staffordshire, England.

In the early 1790s, he attempted to print photographs on materials including ceramic, glass, paper and white leather, believing that if he could produce photos, these could be useful in his education of young people.

Chemist, Humphry Davy wrote up Wedgwood's experiments in a Paper for The Royal Institution in London in 1802.

David Brewster published an account of this Paper in The Edinburgh Magazine in December 1802.

Professor Larry J Schaaf believes that Davy may in fact have been successful in finding a way to 'fix' some of his images.  If so, this would give him a far more prominent position in the history of photography.


Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833) was son of a wealthy lawyer.

He served in the French army under Napoleon, then became Administrator of the district of Nice.

From 1795, he devoted his life to scientific research.

With his brother, Claude, he invented and patented then developed what was probably the world's first internal combustion engine.

He experimented with photography in the mid-1820s.

The earliest of his photos to survive is a view of rooftops from his window.  It was an 8-hour exposure taken in 1826.  This was on pewter, coated with bitumen disolved in lavender oil.

Niépce continued to experiment, and corroborated with Daguerre from 1829 until Niépce died in 1833.  Daguerre went on to invent the Daguerreotype, a process that he sold to the French Government in 1839.

The French Government paid a pension of 6,000 Franks pa to Daguerre, and also made a payment of 4,000 Franks pa to Niépce's estate in recognition of the part that Niépce had played in this invention.



Talbot and Daguerre



  • William Henry Fox Talbot:

  •  was born in 1800 in Dorset.

  •  was a member of Astronomical Society and Royal Society in London.

  •  became a Member of Parliament.

  •  studied classics and mathematics at Cambridge.

  •  was a biblical scholar, botanist and helped to decipher cuneiform script.

  •  knew Herschel and Brewster.

  •  developed an interest in photography while sketching with camera lucida.

  •  started experimenting with photography in 1834. 

  • 'Hair down, Collar up'

       Portrait of Talbot by Ivan Szavo -  Hair down, Collar up ©

    'Hair up, Collar down'

       Portrait of Talbot by Ivan Szavo -  Hair up, Collar down ©

    Both photographs above were taken by Ivan Szabo.  They are reproduced
    from the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television collection,
    by courtesy of the Science and Society Picture Library.   Click here for link to web site.


  • Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre:

  •  was born in 1787 in France

  •  was a painter who designed diorama scenes for the theatre

  •  partnered Nicéphore Niépce, and experimented with photography

  •  continued experimenting with photography after Niépce's death in 1833.


    Fathers of Photography  -  LJM Daguerre  -  Published in a supplement to The Practical Photographer  -  1 August 1891

    ©  Reproduced by courtesy of Edinburgh Photographic Society

Photography Announced

See also 'Further Notes'

  • 1839 has generally regarded as the beginning of photography,

  • Daguerre announced his discovery in early 1839.

  • Talbot responded almost immediately, announcing his discovery.

  • In fact, the two methods were entirely different

  • Daguerre had discovered a way of creating a single image on metal.

  • Talbot had discovered a way of creating multiple images on paper.

The Latticed Window (Talbot)

A print from the oldest photographic negative in existence

Print made from the oldest negative in existence  -  The Latticed Window at Lacock Abbey, photographed by Talbot in 1835

©  Reproduced from the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television collection,
by courtesy of the Science and Society Picture Library.


  • Both Daguerre and Talbot had connections with Edinburgh, particularly Talbot.

  • Daguerre painted stage scenes.  Here is one of Holyrood Palace:

  • I've not found any evidence that he ever came to Edinburgh.

Holyrood Abbey, Edinburgh (Daguerre)

An oil painting

Holyrood Chapel  -  Painting by Daguerre

©  Reproduced by courtesy of The Board of Trustees of the National Museums & Galleries
on Merseyside (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) 

  • Talbot visited Edinburgh in the early 1840s to take photographs for his book  'Sun Pictures of Scotland', published in 1845.

  • Talbot lived in Edinburgh for 10 years from 1855.

  • He was one of six prominent photographers elected as Honorary Members of Edinburgh Photographic Society in 1862.

  • Did he attend any of the society's meetings?


Reaction in Edinburgh

See also 'Further Notes'

  • Edinburgh was well placed to react to the discovery of photography.

  • There was a keen interest in photography at Royal Scottish Society of Arts. Members experimented and presented their results to the society.

  • There was a visit to Daguerre's studio in Paris, with a report back to the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Exhibitions

1st Exhibition

  • On 15 October 1839, James Howie placed an announcement in The Scotsman:

Mr Howie, artist, 64 Princes Street,

 begs leave respectfully to inform the Nobility, Gentry and Public,

 that he has succeeded in producing some beautiful specimens in the above 


the first public exhibition of its kind in Scotland

2nd Exhibition

  • In December,  an Exhibition of Arts, Manufacturers and Practical Science  was held at  Assembly Halls, George Street, from 24 Dec 1839 until 7 Jan 1840.

Talbot's work was included in this exhibition.  Daguerre also exhibited in Edinburgh;  I assume this would have been at the same exhibition.

This Exhibition attracted over 50,000 visitors.


Reaction in St Andrews

See also 'Further Notes'


Thomas Rodger Sen.

dressed in Newhaven Fishwives' costume.

Thomas Rodger [sen.] - dressed in Newhaven Fishwives' costume.

©   Reproduced by courtesy of St Andrews University Library                                A LB49-11

  • Here, he is seated beside a well known violinist, but has chosen to play the bellows rather than the violin!


Thomas Rodger Sen.  "Playing the Bellows"

seated beside Hungarian violinist, Edouard Remeny.

Thomas Rodger [sen.] - Playing the bellows" seated beside the Hungarian violinist, Edouard Remeny.

©   Reproduced by courtesy of St Andrews University Library                                                      ALB49-12


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