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HomeContents > People > Photographers > John Adamson

Other: Dr. John Adamson 
Dates:  1809 - 1870
Born:  Great Britain
Active:  Scotland
Scottish photographer and brother of Robert Adamson who worked with David Octavius Hill.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for John Adamson
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

Dr. Adamson received his education in his hometown of St. Andrews, continued his medical education in Edinburgh, and became a physician in 1829. Following additional medical training in Paris he was a ship’s surgeon in the China seas before returning to St. Andrews to establish a medical practice. When Sir David Brewster founded the St. Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society in 1838, Adamson became not only a member but also the curator of its museum. It was through Brewster’s close friendship with Talbot that photography flourished in St. Andrews during the early 1840s. Adamson, Hugh Lyon Playfair, and Thomas Rodger were some of the chief advocates for the new art. Using the calotype process exclusively, Adamson took studies of the landscape, topography, and notable worthies of St. Andrews, and is credited with having taken the first calotype portrait in Scotland, sometime during the early months of 1842. He is most remembered for introducing his younger brother Robert Adamson to photography, which would lead to the remarkable partnership of Hill & Adamson. John Adamson may have been the author of the photographs, dating from 1842 to 1845, which document his efforts to clean up the typhoid-ridden Fishergate area of St. Andrews. In the 1854 exhibition of the Royal Infirmary Fund in nearby Dundee, Adamson showed a collodion portrait. He expanded his collodion work for the 1855 exhibition of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, displaying both scientific and artistic work, but, significantly, also displaying calotypes he had made in 1842. He once again showed calotype portraits, apparently freshly made, in the 1856 exhibition of the Photographic Society of Scotland in Edinburgh. Even as photography matured as an art, his antityphoid efforts and his medical practice increasingly demanded Adamson’s time. It was not until 1864 that he once again contributed some collodion photographs to the Photographic Society of Scotland exhibition. 
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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John Adamson
John Adamson, stereographic self-portrait 
1845-1851 (ca)
Family history 
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Visual indexes

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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

Printed biographies

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

• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on John Adamson.] 

Useful printed stuff

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

• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.20-21 
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