Although conditions in the cities could
be grim, life in the Scottish countryside during the Highland Clearances was
little better. From the 1760s onwards, thousands of farmers and their families were
evicted from their crofts so that landowners could use the land more profitably
for sheep farming. In addition, the potato famine of 1846 left many people with
no option but to emigrate to the colonies or head south to work in the
factories in lowland Scotland. By the 1860s the Clearances were effectively
over, and only very few farmers remained. These farmers organised themselves
under new leadership - something which had been difficult after the break-down
of the clan system - and after a long struggle they succeeded in improving
Amateur photographer John Muir Wood took this calotype in an unknown place in Scotland around 1850. Much of Wood’s landscape photography demonstrates great similarities to conventional landscape painting. His compositions are deliberately constructed to draw the viewer into the image and often have a very clear point of focus. In this case, the focus of the image is the ruined building on top of the hill, which reminds us that this deserted place was once inhabited. The ruined state of the building is echoed by the rocks and pebbles in the stream, which is used as the tool to lead the eye into the picture.
John Muir Wood came from a family of Edinburgh piano makers and music publishers. He was sent abroad in 1826 to Paris and Vienna to study the piano. Returning to Edinburgh in 1828 as a music teacher, he entered the family business with his brother. His knowledge of photography may date from his friendship in the 1840s with the eye surgeon Dr Jasper MacAldin who shared his knowledge of optics and chemistry. Throughout his amateur career Wood produced many portraits as well as landscape photographs of the places he visited in Britain and on the Continent.