The partnership of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson is unequalled in the history of photography for its sophistication and impact. When they met in Edinburgh in 1843, Robert Adamson had set up the first studio in Scotland to work with William Henry Fox Talbot’s ‘calotype’ process. The calotype was a negative/positive form of photograph, capable of producing many prints, unlike the rival daguerreotype which is a single object. Hill was a painter and had started work on a large-scale picture, celebrating the founding of the Free Church of Scotland. They first met to see if Hill could use photography to aid the painting, but almost immediately discovered the potential excitements of photography. Fascinated by the process, Hill entered into partnership with Adamson within a few weeks.
Hill and Adamson’s photographs were mostly portraits of people who lived in and visited Scotland and are an active expression of Hill’s sympathy for and interest in people. Through chemical, optical and aesthetic experiment, they discovered how to make an awkward process express character, charm and beauty. Their work was completed in less than four years and the partnership ended with the tragedy of Robert Adamson’s death in 1848, at the age of 27.