Speaker 15th November Antonia Laurence-Allen


Exploring The Photographic Collection of the NTS

Antonia as Curator for Edinburgh and the East of Scotland covers 17 properties. Some with have a history of photographic images. Antonia has been funded by the Morton Family Trust to archive, digitalise and document these collections.

Her talk gave an introspective look at a world gone by and how these images were created to represent how society saw the differing social status and standing within communities both urban and rural.

Antonia reflected on the how these images of the late 19th century represented who we were in the past, the life that is left behind. They are the secrets of the way we see and interpret the past. In a fascinating, knowledgeable and very stimulating talk, Antonia brought alive the families of a Glasgow tenement, life in the Outer Hebrides, the isolation and curiosity factor of St Kilda. Architectural changes in Fife and the back catalogue of Robert Smails, an Innerleithen printer.

When you consider, those who sat for portraits had to do so for 15 minutes, the results are very impressive for the 1850s. Most were Daguerreotypes, an image on a sliver clad copper sheet. The cost was a Guinea, a lot of money in those days. One photographer developed a system creating 6 images from one click, which cost shillings. The increase of family photos become very popular when Queen Victoria started having photos taken.

The process improved dramatically in the 1890s on the introduction of the Kodak system, with the strap line, ‘Quick as a Wink’. This gave access to capture the events of every-day life, among the middle-income workers.

Antonia described the works of pioneering Scottish photographer, George Washington Wilson, who documented his travel through the Western Isles. Victorians admired and feared the inhabitants of St Kilda, the hardships and their way of life. The images were set up to capture these pre-conceived notions. The inhabitants, were sadly an attraction. A collection of photos from the Isle of Canna depicts life as it was, followed through to the present day with Antonia herself siting on the steps of the house, now owned by the National Trust.

With so many properties and collections, Antonia’s role in archiving the history is extensive, covering Selkirk photographer Robert Colledge, whose images were used by Valentines of Dundee, Smails printing works, Broughton House, Kirkcudbright, and a collection of overseas images, known as the Yokohama Photographs, by Western photographer, Felix Beato.

Capturing images of people and their way of life is essential. So is recording the changes in architectural styles. In the 1890s, developments of buildings close to St Andrews at Kellie Castle and Hill of Tarvit reflect the work of Sir Robert Lorimer.

Antonia reflected on the detective work necessary to identify the people, the places, through dress code at the time, family connections, and the many other links, to piece together and document a social history, through photography. One wonders how with the digital age, members of STAPS will reflect on their photo archives in another 100 years?