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HomeContents > People > Photographers > David Octavius Hill

Other: D.O. Hill 
Joint: Hill & Adamson 
Dates:  1802 - 1870
Born:  Great Britain, Scotland, Perth
Died:  Great Britain, Scotland, Edinburgh
Active:  Scotland
Hill, the artist, and Robert Adamson the chemist, 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.
[Contributed by Pam Roberts]

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for David Octavius Hill
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

The Edinburgh partnership of Hill and Robert Adamson represented the absolute high point of the earliest days of calotypy. Born in Perth, Hill published his first serious lithographs while still a teenager. Moving to Edinburgh, he quickly established a reputation as an accomplished landscape artist. Hill was a highly attractive figure, both in physique and personality, and with his talent and bonhomie he built a wide circle of artistic friends. In 1829 he was a founding member of the Society of Artists, which later became the Royal Scottish Academy (he would be its secretary throughout his lifetime). When the Disruption took place in the Church of Scotland in 1843, Hill was so moved by the courage of the breakaway ministers that he publicly vowed to record the more than four hundred of them in a giant portrait. Fortunately, Adamson had just established his calotype studio on Calton Hill, and Sir David Brewster put the two men in touch, resulting in a truly symbiotic partnership that almost immediately began to produce calotype portraits of great eloquence, sensitivity, and good humor. The firmís reputation grew rapidly, and their clientele soon included the society of Edinburgh. Although known primarily for their portraiture, Hill & Adamson also produced important landscapes, architectural views, and studies of the fishing community of Newhaven. Adamsonís tragic early death brought an end to the partnership, which had lasted only a little over three years, nevertheless producing thousands of significant photographs. Hill remained active in the artistic community, but his photographic work following Adamsonís death is of little interest. He entered Hill & Adamsonís calotypes in the Great Exhibition of 1851, giving full credit to his late friend, as well as the 1854 exhibition of the Royal Infirmary Fund in Dundee; the 1856 exhibition of the Photographic Society of Scotland in Edinburgh; the 1857 exhibition of the Birmingham Photographic Society; and the 1859 exhibition at the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Aberdeen. At the 1862 International Exhibition in London, Hill displayed the enigmatically titled Contributions to Photography, his final showing in a photographic exhibition. In their very brief collaboration, Hill & Adamson proved beyond a doubt that photography was an art. 
Roger Taylor & Larry J. Schaaf Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 4 Nov 2012. 
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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Hill & Adamson
D.O. Hill 
1843 (ca)
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.

Visual indexes

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Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer. Go to website
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.

• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on 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 David Octavius Hill.] 
• 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 David Octavius Hill 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 David Octavius Hill.] 


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 David Octavius Hill 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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