The National Galleries of Scotland is saddened to learn of the death of Murray MacKinnon at the age of 78. Over a period of 40 years, MacKinnon amassed a collection of 15,000 photographs that capture a snapshot of life in Scotland during a century of change. In 2018, the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland formed an ambitious partnership to jointly acquire this extensive collection. Here Curator of Photography Blake Milteer explores the history of MacKinnon's astonishing collection.
In forming his collection over several decades, Murray cast his eye wide, selecting an extraordinary range of subjects, photographic processes, and formats representing Scottish life and achievements. He was particularly interested in the relationship between Scotland’s culture and the early development of photography from the 1840s through to the 1950s – a century of profound cultural and technological transformation in Scotland and worldwide.
Murray’s first purchase was a small group of nineteenth-century photographs of Aberdeen by the photographer George Washington Wilson.
He was soon bitten with the collecting bug, stating that he was ‘looking all the time’ for photographs which expanded the range of the collection. As the collection grew, so did his connections with antiquarian dealers, gallerists, scholars, and auction houses, creating opportunities for more ambitious additions to the collection.
Murray was particularly interested in photographs which showed the effects of human activity and technology on both urban and rural landscapes of Scotland. He organised the collection by themes such as coastal and rural life, urban areas, military life, work and industry, transport, sport and leisure. His vision and his commitment to historic Scottish photography resulted in the 2003 publication The Scots: A Photohistory, which he co-authored with historian Richard Oram.
In 2019 Murray was able to experience the collection in a completely new light with our exhibition Scotland’s Photograph Album at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. This exhibition and the concurrent display at the National Library called At the Water's Edge comprised the first major public unveiling of the collection.
Murray was delighted by the favourable public and media reception to the exhibitions. He also followed our ongoing activities with great interest, including the launch of our exhibition tour at Duff House in Banff earlier this year and which is continuing to Kirkcudbright (11 December 2020 – 13 March 2022) then Stornoway (8 April – 19 June 2022). Much of the collection can now also be experienced digitally through the Galleries website and the National Library's interactive website From Shore to Shore.
Murray MacKinnon’s collecting activities will have a lasting legacy thanks to an ongoing project to make the collection accessible to all. Cataloguing and digitisation of all the photographs in the collection is well underway, and, following completion of the project in late 2022, the entire collection of nearly 15,000 items will be available online and to experience in person at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and National Library.