Over 300,000 photographs exist in collections at the National Library of Scotland, dating from the 1840s to the present day.
Mostly the photographs are part of the Archives and Manuscript collections, but others are held in our collections of maps, rare books and music, and in general collections and the Moving Image Archive.
Often they are associated with other material — for example, in personal or organisational archives.
Collected since the 1840s
Scotland played a key role in photography from early on. The National Library's forerunner, the Advocates Library, began acquiring books illustrated with original photographs in the 1840s, when photography was in its infancy.
As a result of more than 170 years of collecting, the photographic collections at the Library:
- Cover a range of formats
- Represent all the major photographic processes
- Contain significant and rare items relating to the history of photography
- Include items which capture aspects of the history and culture of Scotland, including images of daily life
- Are important for research into particular Scottish photographers.
The MacKinnon Collection
Acquired by the National Library of Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland, the MacKinnon Collection consists of 14,000 photographs of Scottish life across 100 years.
Images dating from the early days of photography capture day-to-day scenes, chart social and economic changes in Scotland between the 1840s and 1940s.
The collection includes original photographs by some of photography's pioneers — such as Hill and Adamson, Thomson and Ross, and Thomas Annan.
There are also examples of the work of some of Scotland's successful commercial photographers, along with daguerrotype portraits and handmade albums.
The earliest photo?
In the papers of James Nasmyth is a photograph of a Paris rooftop, annotated by Nasmyth as dating from 1835.
If the date is correct, this print would have pre-dated Louis Daguerre's announcement of his 'daguerreotype' process to the public in 1839.
Strengths of the collections
The scope and scale of our photographic material means that our collections are strong in several areas, such as:
- Scottish photographs from mid-19th century to early 21st
- Photographically illustrated books and albums
- Family portraits
- Edinburgh festivals and culture
- Mountaineering and polar exploration photographs
- Travel, exploration, settlement, science, military and missionary activities.
Church of Scotland World Missions Board archive
One of the most substantial photographic collections is part of the Church of Scotland World Missions Board archive.
With an estimated 40,000 images on glass slides, negatives, prints and photograph albums, the collection ranges from around 1878 to well into the 20th century.
It covers India, Africa and China, Europe and North America, and includes rarely found images from Scots in the New Hebrides, now Vanuatu.
View a selection of the photographs in the International Mission Photography Archive.
First World War photographs
The papers of Earl Haig [Library reference: Acc.3155] include a substantial collection of rare prints of the work of official British photographers on the Western Front during the First World War.
Amounting to around 6,000 images, this is an important visual record of the war. View the photographs online in 'First World War official photographs'.
A very different view of the First World War can be found within the photograph albums and prints which are part of personal archives of men and women serving during the war. Examples include:
- The photograph albums of Mairi Chisholm, driver and nurse at the Belgian Front for the duration of the war [Reference: Acc.8006]
- Albums compiled by Lieutenant Archibald Clive Irvine while serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps in East Africa [Reference: Acc.12016]
- Photographs of Charles d'Orville Pilkington Jackson on active service in the Middle East, and relating to his work on war memorials at the end of the war [Reference: Acc.8542]
- Margaret Marx, serving with the Scottish Women's Hospitals in Romania and Russia [Reference: Acc.12090].
Photographically illustrated books
Another of our greatest photographic strengths is our collections of photographically illustrated books and albums. Highlights include:
- One of the world's earliest photograph albums [Library shelfmark: Phot.med.33], produced by the Edinburgh Calotype Club which was formed in the early 1840s and is the oldest photographic club in the world: view the album in our 'Pencils of light' website
- Henry Fox Talbot's 'Sun Pictures in Scotland' [Library shelfmark: Phot.med.27] containing 23 original photographic prints by one of the founder of photography
- The first book on art history to be illustrated with photographs – William Stirling Maxwell's 'Annals of the Artists of Spain' [shelfmark: H.10.a.15]
- 'The Attitudes of Animals in Motion’, 1881, comprises Eadweard Muybridge's pioneering photographic series of animal and human locomotion studies [Shelfmark: Dur.2508]
- Captain Linnaeus Tripe's 1858 volume 'Photographs of the Elliot Marbles' [Shelfmark: D.38.a] and his albums representing Madura, Poodoocottah, Seringham, and Ryakotta are significant early photographic depictions of India
- 'The Arctic Regions' 1873, by William Bradford is a classic in arctic exploration with photographs by John Dunmore and George Critcherson [Shelfmark: Wordie.1664].
Read more on our page on photographs in the Rare Book Collections.
Mountaineering and exploration
We have rich collections of printed books, archives and manuscripts relating to mountaineering and exploration in Scotland and abroad. Many include substantial collections of images on glass slides, prints and in photographic albums dating from the 1880s to the present day. Examples are:
- American mountaineer, explorer and travel writer Fanny Bullock Workman and her husband Dr William Henry Workman documented their numerous expeditions with photographs and diaries which later formed the basis of a series of travel books and lectures. They are best-known for their climbing and exploratory activities in the Alps and Himalayas in the years leading up to the First World War [Library reference: Acc.9893; Acc.13773]
- Much-loved climber, journalist and author Tom Weir was also a talented photographer. His papers include an extensive series of photographs from the 1950s to the 1980s taken in connection with his various activities. Weir was a member of the first post-war Himalayan mountaineering expedition in 1950 and of that to Nepal in 1952, and took photographs of these pioneering and exploratory expeditions. We also have extensive runs of photos produced for his long-running column in 'The Scot's Magazine' and 'Weir's Way', his popular TV series [Reference: Acc.13059]
- Photographs form a major part of the Scottish Youth Hostels Association's records. Most of their numerous hostels are represented, from Broadmeadows, the first SYHA hostel opened in 1931, to city hostels and newly opened hostels such as Fort Augustus. We also hold journals of cycling and walking holidays donated to the association by grateful hostellers. [Reference: Acc.13372]
Significant figures from Scottish photography who are represented in the collections include:
- David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson
- Thomas Annan
- Archibald Burns
- George Washingon Wilson
- John Thomson
- Isabella (Bird) Bishop
- James Nasmyth
- William Carrick
- Sir John Kirk.
We hold archives of modern Scottish photographers, too, such as:
- Alan Daiches, whose archive of around 16,000 negatives and prints covers cultural, newspaper and television work, as well as commercial commissions [Reference: Acc.12694]
- Paul Shillabeer, official photographer of the Edinburgh International Festival from 1948-1973, whose other areas of work included industry, arts, fashion, portraits. and Edinburgh Zoo [Reference: Acc.9139]
- Paul Seton Gordon, highly regarded author of books on the Scottish Highlands who was also an accomplished photographer of regional wildlife, habitats, and local communities.
Find out more
You can find details of more than 400 books and other photography related items by using the 'Browse by shelfmark' option on Library Search to look for the shelfmark 'Phot'.
If you have any questions about photographs in our collection, please email us at email@example.com.