Robert Adamson & David Octavius Hill

Robert Adamson & David Octavius Hill

1802-1870 | 1821-1848


David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson secured a place in the history of photography and art history with their accomplishments with Calotype portraits. Their portraits were noted for their simple composition, their straightforward lighting, their quiet dignity, and their ability to catch the distinctive qualities of the sitter.


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Hill and Adamson made Calotype documentary portraits that beautifully speak of their time. They photographed not only the churchmen, but also a variety of subjects: landscapes, architecture, friends and family. Their environmental portraits were among the earliest recorded, utilizing the new medium of photography. They worked together on their project for four and a half years, until Adamson’s early death in 1848 at the age of 27.

Adamson’s role has always been questioned: Was he merely a technician taking direction from Hill, or was he a talented photographer? The latter must be assumed because even though Hill worked with two other photographers after Adamson’s untimely death, his work never again achieved the excellent quality of the Hill and Adamson calotypes.

Hill did finish the painting of the ministers but not until 1866, just four years prior to his death. Both Hill and Adamson were inducted into the Photography Hall of Fame in 1978.

By Vi Whitmire, For IPHF

Mountains 1998, Jane Doe