In 1840s Edinburgh, painter David Octavius Hill and engineer Robert Adamson formed the city’s first photography studio, which created thousands of images until Adamson’s sudden death. They are best known for their wonderful portraits, but over the course of their sadly short partnership they also created quite a few city views.
At a time when most photographers worked with daguerreotypes, Hill and Adamson used the negative-positive process, creating negatives on paper (calotypes) which could then be printed on salted paper. The Special Collections at the University of Glasgow holds large numbers of their original negatives, and their online collection provides digitally reversed positive images.
The photographs are wonderful not only as some of the earliest views of a beautiful city, but for the aesthetic of the early paper negative. Even with skill level like Hill and Adamson’s, the process was still highly unpredictable. The photographs are imperfect–which is ultimately a testament to the incredible fact of their existence.
Photos by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson