George Washington Wilson

Having recently started a photography course, i felt inspired to delve a bit deeper into the history of photography…

This piece of work is by the Scottish photographer, George Washington Wilson (1823-1893).

First training as an artist in Edinburgh and London, Wilson established a successful career as a photographer in the 1850s.  He perfected his own method of ‘instantaneous’ photography, enabling him to take images in one fifth of a second and capture movement where previous photographers had only been able to capture a blur, such as a street scene [See Daguerre’s 1838 photograph of Boulevard du Temple]

His recognition as a skilled photographer came in 1853 when he became the first person to photograph the Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Balmoral.  He later received many more commissions to photograph the Royal family and went on to build up a substantial portfolio of topographic photos of Scotland. This success was in part due to Wilson’s skill at marketing his photography.  He took advantage of the rise in the printed press to show case his work and appeal to public demand, making him a very well-known and sought after photographer.

The above photograph is of Fingal’s Cave, located on the uninhabited island of Staffa in the Outer Hebrides. Fingal’s Cave had become a popular tourist destination in the 1830s after Felix Mendelssohn, at the age of 20, visited the island in 1829 and composed The Hebrides.  Even Queen Victoria visited the island.

In this stereoscopic photograph, Wilson captures the awe-inspiring, atmospheric scenery of the cave perfectly. By setting up the camera deep inside the cave, the bold contrast in light draws attention to the lone figure standing at the entrance of the cave.  The ragged edges and distinctive shape of the rocks can also be clearly identified.  All of this in turn adds to the mystical quality the caves were said to imbue.  It would have made a perfect keep-sake for anyone who travelled to the island and would have encouraged many more to make the journey.

As this was a stereoscopic photograph, it was intended to be viewed through a stereo viewer, making the 2 slightly offset images into a 3 dimensional image. For those who did not have the means to travel to the Outer Hebrides, this was next best thing for the Victorian public to feel like they were in the cave.

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