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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Hill & Adamson

Other: D.O. Hill & R. Adamson 
Includes: David Octavius Hill 
Includes: Robert Adamson 
Active:  Scotland
The partnership of David Octavius Hill (1802-1870) and Robert Adamson (1821-1848) lasted between 1843 and 1848 during the early years of photography in Scotland and produced some of the finest portraits ever created. Hill was the artist and Adamson the chemist and they formed one of the most dynamic partnerships in the history of photography, tragically cut short after 5 years when Adamson died, his frail health probably made worse by the poisonous chemicals used in photography.
Their work was much admired by the pictorialists at the end of the Nineteenth century including Alfred Stieglitz and was published in Camera Work.
[With contributions by Pam Roberts]

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Hill & Adamson
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK)

David Octavius Hill worked in partnership with Robert Adamson in the mid-1840's. Hill was a painter-lithographer based in Edinburgh, who became interested in photography having been commissioned to paint a commemorative composition of hundreds of Church ministers. To capture their likenesses he joined forces with Adamson who had learnt the calotype process in 1842. Together they eventually produced nearly 3000 paper negatives consisting of portraits, landscapes, and scenes of local life which are some of the earliest documentary photographs ever taken. 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Victoria & Albert Museum and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 11 Nov 2011. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

Further research

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David Octavius Hill
The First General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland - Signing the Act of Separation and the Deed of Demission at Tanfield, Edinburgh, May 1843 (Detail) 
Family history 
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch.

Exhibitions on this website

Theme: Documentary
ThumbnailHill & Adamson - Newhaven 
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Theme: Portrait
ThumbnailHill & Adamson: Masters of the calotype portrait 
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Visual indexes

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Supplemental information


Hill & Adamson

Adamson learned the calotype process in 1842, opened a portrait studio in Edinburgh, and began a five-year partnership with D.O. Hill in 1843. Hill was a landscape painter who had become interested in photography while planning a large commemorative painting of the founders of the Free Church of Scotland; he sought the help of Adamson in the belief that the calotype process would aid in rendering the likeness of the 474 clergymen and dignitaries involved. The partners soon expanded their subject matter to include genre and other scenes, and between them made about 1,500 images before the partnership ended when Adamson died in 1848.
A book on the two photographers was written in 1991 by Sara Stevenson entitled, Hill & Adamson's The Fishermen and Women of The Firth of Forth.
[Contributed by Lee Gallery] 

Internet biographies

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
 Go to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.] Go to website
The International Photographers Hall of Fame has provided a biography. Go to website

Internet resources

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Hill & Adamson ... 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.38 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.249 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Hill & Adamson.] 
• Weaver, Mike (ed.) 1989 The Art of Photography 1839-1989 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) p.458 [This exhibition catalogue is for the travelling exhibition that went to Houston, Canberra and London in 1989.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.161-162 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.250 
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.24-25 
• Naef, Weston 2004 Photographers of Genius at the Getty (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) [For this photographer there is a description and three sample photographs from the Getty collection. p.28-31] 
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Hill & Adamson are included in this classic history.] 
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.16 [Analyzes a single photograph by Hill & Adamson.] 


Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 

In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Hill & Adamson was represented in 52 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 
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