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HomeContents > People > Photographers > James Robertson

Other: James D. Robertson 
Joint: Robertson & Beato 
Joint: Shepherd & Robertson 
Dates:  1813 - 1888
Born:  England
Active:  Middle East / Turkey / India
English engraver, artist and photographer who photographed throughout the Mediterranean in the 1850s. He had received his training at the Royal Mint in London and became the chief engraver for the Ottoman Imperial Mint in Constantinople a position he held for forty years. As a photographer he took the first 360 degree panoramic photographs of the city. In 1854 he photographed in Athens. In 1855 he photographed the Crimean War. Later he photographed in Egypt and the Middle East including Jerusalem. He was the brother-in-law of photographers Antonio and Felice Beato.

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Approved biography for James Robertson
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

Prominent among the few facts known about Robertson are his position as chief engraver to the Royal Mint at Constantinople and his accomplishments as a photographer. Robertson is most closely associated with views of the Crimea, taken in collaboration with his partner, Felice Beato. We know from official records that his father was English. Robertson has been variously identified, most convincingly as a London-based gem engraver who exhibited at the Royal Academy during the 1830s. In 1839 a new sultan decided to modernize the mint. New equipment was purchased from London, and a team of experts, mostly British and including Robertson, was hired to install and use it. Just when or why he took up photography is unknown; a claim that he calotyped in 1850 is unsubstantiated but not impossible. In 1853 the Athenaeum reviewed twenty of his photographs, published by Joseph Cundall under the title Photographic Views of Constantinople. In 1854 Robertson’s photographs of “Grecian Antiquities” were exhibited by the Society of Arts in London. While their process was unspecified, his contributions to two of the society’s touring exhibitions in 1854 were made using paper negatives. Three of these, simply titled Pyramid, were presumably but not necessary taken in Egypt; the other eight were views of architecture in Constantinople. In 1855 Robertson again contributed to the touring exhibition of the Society of Arts, showing mostly views of Athens, done from paper negatives. His last known public showing of paper photography was the contribution of two Talbotypes of ruins in Greece to the 1857 Birmingham Photographic Society exhibition. In 1856 Robertson married Maria Matilde, the sister of Felice Beato. Robertson then turned to the wet-collodion process, and photographs by “Robertson & Beato” became known. Robertson seems to have given up photography not long after. He retired from the Constantinople mint in 1881 because of ill health and moved with his family to Japan. 
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.
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Further research

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Unidentified photographer
James Robertson 
Family history 
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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.]
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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.49 [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.58 
• Perez, Nissan N. 1988 Focus East: Early Photography in the Near East 1839-1885 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.) p.210-211 [Short biography on James Robertson possibly with example plates.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.222-223 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 
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