Historical Fiction

Hill and Adamson


hillbell_st andrews

*D. O. Hill and George Bell

Between 1843 and 1847, Edinburgh artist David Octavius Hill and his partner Robert Adamson, an engineer from St. Andrews, created thousands of photographic prints in a variety of styles, using  the technique invented only a few years earlier by William Henry Fox Talbot.

In four dramatic years they produced some 3000 images and laid the foundations of modern photography.   Their calotype prints have been preserved in many galleries and libraries.

I stumbled on their story while writing A Kettle of Fish and largely due to a book called The Personal Art of David Octavius Hill (see below), I decided it would be my next project.

That was quite a few years ago and, apparently,  it still is. Transforming a real piece of history into fiction  proved challenging, and it has sometimes seemed that the more I found out, the harder it was to let go of the facts and write a narrative that would do them justice.

standphotofest-ali-bacon-reading-2_smflipAt the point where I had shelved my project indefinitely,  I wrote a short story based on one of their best known photographs. Silver Harvest  gained the attention of several competition judges and was selected for two live events. As a result of contacting the St Andrews Photography Festival I went on to devise a programme of six stories which I read at the festival in September 2016.

It was thrilling (blog post here) not just to read in the home of early Scottish photography  (also my alma mater) but also to meet so many other Hill and Adamson enthusiasts: – historians, writers, photographers and even a twenty-first century calotypist. Buoyed up by this experience, I’m expanding on the original stories with the aim of publication some time in 2017.

If you would like to follow in my research footsteps, here are a few starting points.

Early Photography in Scotland

 Book list:

book coverThe Personal Art of David Octavius Hill, by Sara Stevenson, Yale University Press, 2002

The Remarkable Mr Hill,  by Robin H. Rodger,
Perth Museum and Art Gallery,  2002

Facing the Light: the Photography of Hill & Adamson,
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh 2002

Mr Hill’s Big Picture, by John Fowler
Saint Andrew Press, 2006

The Photography of Victorian Scotland,  Roddy Simpson,
Edinburgh University Press, 2012


Scottish National Galleries on Flickr
St. Andrews University Library Photographic Archive
The Disruption Painting (University of Glasgow   Library) http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/specialcollections/collectionsa-z/hilladamson/disruptionpicture/
Glasgow School of Art: Photographs by David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson
Scottish Society for the History of Photography

*Image courtesy of St Andrews University Library (ALB-24-15)

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