The early history of photography in Edinburgh is distinguished by the remarkable partnership between the painter David Octavius Hill and the engineer Robert Adamson, who brought Talbot’s calotype, or paper negative, process to an artistic summit. Hill and Adamson’s series of portraits of Newhaven fishwives are one of the world’s earliest examples of photographic portraiture. The fishwives of Newhaven were famous for both their beauty and confidence. The quiet dignity of this portrait of Elizabeth Johnstone is due in part to certain characteristics of the calotype process. The soft paper negative eliminated excessive detail and shaped a monumental figure out of broad areas of light and shadow. The sitter supports herself against the stack of picturesque baskets, her eyes downcast. Her sculptural serenity is enlivened by the conflicting stripes of the skirts and aprons of her regional costume, an effect repeated in the sparkling pattern of the rough woven baskets.
Lyden, Anne M. A Perfect Chemistry: Photographs by Hill & Adamson. Edinburgh: the Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland, 2017 p. 88
National Galleries of Scotland accession number: PGP HA 2632
MFA Boston accession number 1974.469
Getty Object Number: 84.XO.718.104.22.168
Anne M. Lyden. Hill and Adamson, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1999), 74. ©1999