Light Front the Dark Room is a celebration of 150 years of Scottish photography. Lila Rawlings previews the show and ﬁnds something inextricably Scottish in one of
f all the art forms to come out of Scotland. photography has traditionally been the most neglected. This is not to say that Scotland has stood alone in its indifference. As the potent synthesis of art and science. photography has had to fight long and hard to win the respect ofthe art world internationally. and has for too long been regarded as a kind of poor relation.
Light From the Dark Room at the Royal Scottish Academy aims to put the record straight by showing us the seminal part played by Scots in defining the very essence and power of the photographic image. When Edinburgh painter David Octavius Hill met photographer Robert Adamson in 1843. the creative/teehnological duality of photography was perfectly realised in their partnership. Edinburgh. the nerve centre for optical science and discovery at that time. provided a dynamic backdrop for a collaboration that was to have a direct influence on many of the great photographers of the 201h century. Nearly 100 years later. when a major show on the history of photography opened across the other side of the world at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. the American photographer Paul Strand commented: ‘The first floor should be all David Octavius Hill.‘
the major art forms of the 20th century.
In their study of the fishing village of Newhaven — one of the very first attempts at a social-documentary photographic series — Hill and Adamson set out to record the daily life of a rural community representing a romantic ideal. This has an obvious link to Strand’s life- long search for ‘the village'. which he eventually found in Lunara. Italy. His black and white portraits of village life share a posed yet natural quality reminiscent of Hill and Adamson‘s beautiful calotype portraits of fishermen and their families taken on the Firth of Forth in 1843.
Although their partnership was relatively brief. Hill and Adamson were prolific. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery’s collection comprises about 5000 of their prints — the meat on the bones of the Scottish National Photography Collection. created in 1984 in an attempt to acknowledge the importance of photography in Scotland‘s creative psyche. Since then. the collection has grown to more than 20.000 items. many of which can be seen
in Light From the Dark Room: A ('e/e/n‘ution of
The show. spanning 150 years. includes new unseen work from contemporary photographers currently working in Scotland including Calum Colvin. Thomas Joshua
Cooper. Patricia fvlacdonald and Catriona Grant. While there is little evidence of a ‘universal‘ theme linking the work. there is a sense of contemporary Scottish photography looking ‘out' as much as it looks ‘in’. Irish writer Roddy Doyle. who is quoted in the exhibition catalogue. best articulates this when he says: ‘lt‘s a good thing culturally to be a small country. You‘ve got to look outwards.’
Like all artists. Scotland’s photographers require support and encouragement if they are to enjoy the kind of intermitional recognition that the great—grandfathers of Scottish photography Hill and Adamson achieved. Galleries such as Glasgow‘s Street Level. and Stills and Portfolio galleries in Edinburgh (who publish one of the UK’s ﬁnest photography periodicals) provide a lifeline for Scottish photographers. The growth of the photographic collection of the National Galleries over the last eleven years is cause for celebration in more ways than one. Now all that remains is to make Light From the Dark Room a permanent fixture. J
Light From the Dark Room: A Celebration of Scottish Photography is (it the Royal Scottish Academy. Princes Street, Edinburgh from 28 July~15 ()etohet:
Boys on Rocks. Newhaven by Hill and Adamson
go The List l1—27Jul 1995
Dr George Bell, Nude Study by Hill and Adamson