Newhaven fishermen Hill, David Octavious  (Scottish, 1802-1870)Adamson, Robert  (Scottish, 1821-1848)

Carbon print, printed from the original calotype negative ca.1915 possibly by Jessie Brown Bertram but acquired directly from T. & R. Annan & Sons

Photography was essentially an invention of the Industrial Revolution. By the 1840s, the adverse social and economic impact of that revolution had become painfully clear – the economic booms were followed by severe slumps; the astonishing advance and increased wealth of the nation were imbalanced by periodic destitution, by endemic disease and high mortality. The cities were crowded by incomers looking for work, and the centers of the cities were overtaken by slums. Journalists and other deeply concerned writers attempted to analyze and answer these problems.

The first photographic essay addressing such issues looked at a model of excellence – a cultured and self-determining working community – rather than at the disaster of the slums. In 1844, D. O. Hill and Robert Adamson advertised an album on The Fishermen and Women of the Firth of Forth. They took around 130 Photographs, principally on site in the fishing village of Newhaven, a mile to the north of Edinburgh, but also on the other side of the estuary in St Andrews. The organization and the number of people involved in the exercise is impressive. Some individual pictures contain up to thirty people, including restless children. The pictures show empathy between the photographers and their subjects, based on admiration for working life. With this series, Hill and Adamson invented social documentary photography, many decades before it became a practical proposition in the photographically illustrated magazines. [1]


[1] Stevenson, Sara Hill and Adamson’s The Fishermen and Women of the Firth of Forth (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1991)

Stevenson, Sara, and A D. Morrison-Low. Scottish Photography: The First Thirty Years. , 2015. Print. P.203

Anne Lyden, A Perfect Chemistry: Photographs by Hill & Adamson (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 2017)