Romantic Camera | Scottish Photography & the Modern World

  • 1st December 2011 − 3rd June 2012 | Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Commerce and Art

The mid nineteenth-century expansion of Scottish capitalism impacted profoundly on photography as it was transformed from an amateur pastime into a profit-hungry industry. From the late 1850s photography studios grew ever larger, exploiting new technologies – such as the stereograph and carte de visite – in their appeal to middle-class consumers both at home and abroad. Landscape imagery was particularly sought after, becoming dependent on a standard repertoire of sites often related to the writings of Scott. Viewers identified with subject matter that was at once conservative and emotive, offering a comforting vision of Scottish scenery that could be enjoyed around the domestic hearth.

By the 1890s, the volume of routine imagery churned out by the photographic industry inspired a reaction in the form of a new wave of art photographers known as Pictorialists. Emphasising the craft-based, rather than machine-like, nature of the medium, they pursued romantic subject matter with renewed attention to the creative intervention of the photographer. In a gesture laced with nostalgic yearning, photographers looked back to the ‘artistic’ origins of Scottish photography in the 1840s –in particular the figure of David Octavius Hill – in order to rejuvenate their current practice.

Next: War

The Dark Mountains James Craig Annan


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