Photography treasure trove spanning a century of Scottish life to go on public display for first time

Highlights from a vast photographic collection, charting more than a century of everyday life in Scotland, which was secured for the nation are to go on public display for the first time.

Thursday, 7th November 2019, 4:53 pm
An image by George Washingston Wilson of 19th century herring fisherman in Aberdeen.
An image by George Washingston Wilson of 19th century herring fisherman in Aberdeen.

Images captured in St Kilda, Orkney, Edinburgh and Aberdeen as long ago as the 1840s will be showcased at both the National Library of Scotland and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh from next weekend.

It emerged last May that Aberdeenshire pharmacist Murray MacKinnon's collection of nearly 15,000 images had been acquired by the National Library and the National Galleries of Scotland.

It was returned to Scotland after previously being snapped up by a London-based collector.

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Images of St Kilda are going on public display for the first time as part of the showcase of Murray MacKinnon's photographic collection, which were secured for the nation last year.

Family portraits, street scenes, sporting pursuits, trams, fishing and farming communities, mountains and monuments are among the expected highlights of what has been billed as "Scotland's last great photographic album."

The collection features work captured around Scotland by early photographic pioneers like including William Henry Fox Talbot, David Octavius Hill, Robert Adamson, Roger Fenton, Thomas Annan and George Washington Wilson.

Mr MacKinnon, from Dyce, who bought his first photo album at auction in Glasgow when he was just 17, would develop a life-long love of photography. He also went on to form a chain of film-processing stores in the 1980s and published a book of highlights from his collection in 2013, shortly before he sold off the collection.

Last year's deal, hailed as the most important photographic acquisition for the national collections in Scotland for decades, was supported by the Scottish Government, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund and ensured that regular exhibitions of the collection would be staged.

This image of ships in Granton Harbour in Edinburgh was captured by 19th century photographer Horatio Ross.

When the deal was announced, Mr MacKinnon said: "The collection covers the day-to-day lives of Scottish people both rich and poor, the work they carried out including fishing and farming, in order to survive, and their social life including sport and leisure."

The two forthcoming exhibitions will both open on Saturday 16 November and run until Sunday 16 February.

Dr John Scally, Scotland's National Librarian, said: "Scotland has a unique relationship with photography which dates back to the work of the early pioneers such as Hill and Adamson.

"The exhibition is a glimpse into Murray MacKinnon’s wider collection, which consists of more than 14,000 pictures, but I am excited to share a selection of them as we believe they are truly Scotland’s photograph album.

“I am confident that every Scot will feel a connection with these wonderful photographs and we look forward to sharing them with the public over the coming months.”

Sir John Leighton, director-general of the National Galleries of Scotland, said: "Our exhibition allows allows audiences the chance to be transported back to a century of change and growth.

"It is not only a fascinating look at historical Scottish life that sits just on the edge of living memory, but also an important showcase of the innovative progression of photography in Scotland.”