Romantic Camera | Scottish Photography & the Modern World

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

Scottish Photography and the Modern World

Romanticism emerged as a literary form in the 1790s and had a powerful impact on Scottish culture, particularly through the influence of the poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott. Photography in Scotland was born in Scott’s shadow and was profoundly shaped by his creative imagination. Characterised by nostalgic longing, photographers hunted out traces of Scotland’s turbulent history or ranged across the landscape in search of poetic subjects. Looking back to photography’s origins, the craft basis of the medium was increasingly emphasised, downplaying its function as an industrial technology.

During the twentieth century, romanticism in photography was forged in opposition to the passage of modernity: the shock of global war or unsettling urban change. Of no fixed political form – sometimes radical, more often conservative – it has also been a source of collective self-scrutiny, particularly during Scotland’s cultural renaissance in the 1980s. Romantic identification may, indeed, be a defining feature of the history of Scottish photography, passed down from generation to generation and a vital aspect of lens-based media today.

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