The MacKinnon Photography Collection
The National Library of Scotland and The National Galleries of Scotland have joined forces to raise the funding required to retain what is probably the last significant collection of historically important photography for the nation.
This exceptional collection of more than 14,000 images, dating from the earliest days of photography in the 1840s through to the 1940s, and this joint collaboration means that the collection will not only stay intact, but over the coming years will be the subject of new exhibitions and a project to eventually digitise all the images to make them as accessible as possible so that as many people as possible can enjoy the unique images contained within it.
The collection was put together by photography enthusiast Murray MacKinnon, who established a successful chain of film-processing stores in the 1980s, starting from his pharmacy in Dyce, near Aberdeen. The MacKinnon collection dates back to the earliest days of photography with fine examples of work by early Scottish pioneers in photography such as Hill and Adamson. Other highlights from the collection include
• More than 600 original photographs from the pioneering days of photography featuring work from David Octavius Hill (1802-1870) and Robert Adamson (1821-1848), James Ross (d.1878) and John Thomson (d.1881), Cosmo Innes (1798-1874) and Horatio Ross (1801-1886).
• Some of the finest work of Thomas Annan (1829-1887) and his son, James Craig Annan (1864-1946) including rare examples of their original albumen prints.
• Fine examples of the work of Scotland’s successful commercial photographers including George Washington Wilson (1823-1893) and James Valentine (1815-1880).
• Portraits of Scottish regiments from the Crimean War by Roger Fenton (1819-1869).
• A series of albums and prints depicting life in the main towns and cities from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
• Studies of farming and fishing communities in remote villages and hamlets.
• Scenes of shipbuilding, railways, herring fishing, weaving, whisky distilling, dockyards, slate quarries and other working environments.
Although the collection highlights are important in their historical context, the MacKinnon collection is also a treasure trove that captures the day-to-day lives of Scottish people - the rich and the ordinary people as they work, play and go about their everyday lives. Although the landscape and some of the buildings in these photographs may still be familiar to us, these photographs are often capturing images of a world that has changed in many cases beyond recognition from when they were first captured.
This collection also shines a light upon the development of photography as new advances over a relatively short time period from its creation took the media from the almost “magical” domains of a few early pioneers to mass market availability. The very early sitters eager to have their images captured forever not only had to endure long exposure times in their sittings of up to 25 minutes or so, but also had to have a large disposable income to pay for the privilege as a sitting could cost the equivalent of £500 pounds or more.
For us all now having grown up in a world not only where photography and the capturing of images is common place, but instantly on demand on our phones and digital devices, it is I think impossible for us to grasp just what seeing a photograph for the first time would have been like for someone; for the very first time an image of a place or person captured almost by magic onto a flat surface. Time truly frozen and preserved. Did many believe this was real at the start?
The collection was purchased from a private collector, who bought the collection from Murray MacKinnon.
Breakdown of funding for the acquisition:
Heritage Lottery Fund - £350,000
Scottish Government - £300,000
National Library of Scotland - £125,000
National Galleries of Scotland - £125,000
Art Fund - £100,000
TOTAL £1 million
by Tom King