list.co.uk/festival Edinburgh Photography | FESTIVAL VISUAL ART
Y R E L L A G L A N O T A N H S T T O C S
: O T O H P
Dumbarton Presbytery, by Hill and Adamson
From the pioneering photos of Octavius and Hill to the formation of dedicated photography gallery Stills, Neil Cooper looks at how Edinburgh has been at the forefront of
photography in Scotland
I n 1843, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson stumbled on a working partnership which began when painter Hill asked the younger Adamson to take a picture of more than 400 renegade clergymen from the newly formed Free Church of Scotland. Little did they realise that by documenting such a key moment of Edinburgh life in such a new-fangled fashion, they were kick-starting a revolution of their own. Photography had only been invented four years before, but the pioneering collaboration forged by the pair paved the way for what
would become one of the major art forms of the 20th and 21st centuries.
The result of the partnership can be seen in A Perfect Chemistry, the i rst major showing of Hill and Adamson’s work in 15 years. As part of Edinburgh Art Festival, the duo’s array of social documentary studies of Newhaven i sherfolk and their portraiture of Edinburgh’s society set is being shown in a room named after another iconic photographer, the Robert Mapplethorpe Photography Gallery, at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
It took decades for photography to be taken seriously as an art form in the city, despite the efforts of the Edinburgh Photographic Society, which is about to host its 155th Edinburgh International Exhibition of Photography. In fact, it took 134 years from Hill and Adamson’s i rst collaboration for a gallery devoted solely to photography to open in Edinburgh. That gallery was Stills, which ushers in its 40th anniversary celebrations with its own Edinburgh Art Festival show featuring work by 2016 Margaret Tait Award winner, Kate Davis. Over its 40 year existence, i rst at two addresses on the High Street before moving to its current Cockburn Street premises in 1994, Stills has played host to numerous exhibitions by major international i gures whose work was being shown in Scotland for the i rst time. These have included the likes of Diane Arbus, Robert Mapplethorpe and Walker Evans. Throughout the gallery’s existence, an extensive educational programme has run alongside its exhibitions, offering practical workshops and outreach work.
The seeds of Stills were planted in 1976 by an exhibition called Recent American Still
3–10 Aug 2017 THE LIST FESTIVAL 125