City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Book Festival: A D Morrison Low & Sara Stevenson - Every Picture Tells a Story

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 20 August 2015

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Edinburgh International Book Festival
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A. D. Morrison Low and Sara Stevenson (Ruth Wishart, chair)

Published alongside the exhibition ‘Photography; A Victorian Sensation’ presented at the National Museum of Scotland and curated by Alison Morrison Low, ‘Scottish Photography; The First Thirty Years’, written by Morrison Low and Sara Stevenson, herself Curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery represents the combined knowledge of two distinguished scholars of early photography.

Morrison Low’s expertise in the area of early photographic experimentation and Stevenson’s extensive knowledge of the work of early Scottish photographers make them an ideal pair of guides to this fascinating, if sometimes overlooked, aspect of Victorian scientific interest.

One had to be something of both a scientist as well as an artist to achieve effective results as a photographer in the early days of its development, when the costs of materials alone put the activity beyond the reach of many.

Access to chemical supplies and an understanding of their uses and something of their potential dangers were both needful, and even with these attributes, many early photographers’ works have failed to survive. Morrison Low was able to discuss the work of several such, although their images appear to have been lost forever.

Some of those that survive, however, demonstrate a pin-sharp clarity that is not seen in later work. As processes became simpler, however, moving from glass or metal negative plates to the paper-based processes developed by Henry Fox-Talbot, the potential of the medium became realised by the increasing numbers able to take it up.

Sara Stevenson discussed the collaborations of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, perhaps the best known of early Scottish photographer, but also others, some of whom ventured further from their homeland to record scenes in India and Africa, giving glimpses of vanishing lifestyles in other places.

As photography was becoming democratised, however, it was also growing up and results were not always as effective as those achieved by practitioners with fewer resources. As Stevenson observed, all of us can take photographs, but not all of us are photographers. What we see in ‘Scottish Photography; The First Thirty Years’, however, is that a number of the earliest could produce stunning and thought-provoking images with very simple equipment and methods, and were already pointing out a path many would follow in the ensuing years.

Sara Stevenson and A. D. Morrison-Low ‘Scottish Photography; The First Thirty Years’ NMSE Publishing Ltd. £ 35.00 isbn: 9781905267972