Important acquisitions

[Archive of pictorialist photographs taken in Scotland c. 1907-1945]

Author Hill, Alexander W.
Title [Archive of pictorialist photographs taken in Scotland c. 1907-1945]
Imprint [Edinburgh: A.W. Hill]
Date of Publication [c. 1907-1945]
Language English
Notes This is an important archive of bromoil transfer photographs/prints, consisting of 60 images on 57 paper sheets, by the Scottish amateur photographer A.W. Hill. This group of images has been selected from the largest known archive of Hill's work to come on the market. It ranges from unsigned trial prints, three of which printed on the reverse of others, to signed and mounted exhibition prints. The prints are on a variety of papers and in different sizes; most of them are signed and titled in pencil by the photographer. Born in Girvan, southwest Scotland, Alexander Wilson Hill (1867-1949) was a bank manager by profession but also a dedicated photographer. He took up photography in the 1890s after dabbling with painting, and was to become a longstanding member of the Edinburgh Photographic Society (EPS). He became a devotee of pictorialism, a late 19th-century movement which believed that photography should seek to mimic the painting and etching of the time. Using methods such as soft focus, special filters, lens coatings, manipulation of images in the darkroom and exotic printing processes, often on rough-surface printing papers, pictorialist photographs were intentionally fuzzy. They often mirrored the then fashionable impressionist style of painting in their composition and choice of subject matter. Pictorialism went out of fashion after 1914, but Hill remained loyal to its aesthetic, using the bromoil (transfer) process as his preferred means of expression over a period spanning approximately forty years. The bromoil process was introduced in 1907 and was based on a conventional photographic print made on gelatine silver bromide paper. The introduction of a dichromated bleach allowed for the softening of parts of the original silver-based image, enabling the gelatine to absorb an oil-based pigment, applied selectively by the photographer. To achieve a bromoil transfer print this pigmented (bromoil) image was then transferred to plain paper with the aid of a press. The resulting transfer print was therefore a hand-crafted process, in which the image comprised pigment on plain paper, and was not susceptible to the fading more often associated with silver-based prints of the same period. Although Hill appears to have standardised his technique from an early date, he remained open to a broad range of subject matter, as can be seen in this archive. He photographed extensively in and around Edinburgh, in particular in the Merchiston area near his home in Polwarth. The archive also includes street scenes and images of workers in rural settings and the fishing industry, adding an unusual 'documentary' edge to images that were otherwise still executed within pictorial traditions. There are also landscapes and coastal views from elsewhere in Scotland and a few examples of portraiture and still life. Hill exhibited from the early 1900s to the 1940s, at regular intervals during the 1920s and 1930s, not just in the UK, but also elsewhere in Europe and in North America. He was a regular exhibitor at the annual exhibition of the EPS, The Scottish National Salon and the London Salon of Photography. He taught photography at the Boroughmuir Commercial Institute in Edinburgh and lectured at the EPS on landscape photography and on the bromoil process, as well as being the first convenor of their photographic gallery and museum, which was established in 1931. Hill was one of the first to support the idea of the creation of a national collection of Scottish photography and actively encouraged gifts and donations to this end. It was therefore fitting that in 1987 his own personal photography collection was gifted to the national collection held at Scottish National Portrait Gallery; it includes examples of his own work.
Shelfmark Phot.la.75
Reference Sources Bookseller's notes; EdinPhoto website www.edinphoto.org.uk
Acquired on 04/11/09
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