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HomeContents > People > Photographers > William Collie

Dates:  1810 - 1896
Born:  Scotland, Aberdeen
Active:  Jersey
Collie‘s portrait work shows affinities with Hill & Adamson, and, as he was born in Scotland, he could have been he was familiar with their work. He worked as an artist in Jersey and his photographs, like those of Hill & Adamson, may have been an aid to painting but, also like theirs, they are an early example of using the camera to document a small community.
[Courtesy of Pam Roberts]

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for William Collie
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

Born in Aberdeen, Collie trained as an artist and established himself as a painter and teacher of drawing in Jersey. Exactly when he became interested in photography is not known, but Collie clearly considered his first significant accomplishments to be the series of calotypes that he began in 1847. Formal calotype portraits were then rare, and studio portraits of ordinary people were even more uncommon. In 1847 the Art-Union was very impressed with Collie’s calotypes of Channel Islands market women, “whose expressions, countenances, and picturesque costumes, are well suited for the purpose.” The editor had “seen nothing at all comparable to them, except those of Mr. D. O. Hill, of Edinburgh,” pointing out that both Hill and Collie were artists and that their photography benefited from this. Collie’s portraits do recall the Newhaven series by Hill & Adamson, but differ from having been staged in a studio. Collie was well aware of the singularity of his portraits, explaining how difficult it was to achieve such naturalism with exposures of twenty seconds, the best he could manage. He contributed a group of photographs of “French and Jersey Market-women” to the Great Exhibition of 1851, and this seems partly to have been his undoing. For although his work had few parallels in Jersey, when hung next to the best work of Britain and the Continent, his prints appeared, according to the Reports by the Juries, “not all equally good; many of them are blotty and wanting in depth.” Collie also incurred Talbot’s wrath when he started offering his unlicensed calotypes for sale in England. Turning to collodion, whose exposure times were more suited to his subject matter and which was free from licensing problems, Collie continued with a long career in photography and painting in Jersey. He bequeathed his collection of paintings (now untraced) to a newly formed art gallery in his native Aberdeen. 
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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