Robert Moyes Adam photographic collection

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Scottish landscape, flora and fauna.

Administrative / Biographical History

Robert Moyes Adam (1885-1967) spent most of his professional life as an illustrator in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh. It was as a landscape photographer, however, that he became best known. Widely published, particularly in regular features in the Scots Magazine and many of the books published about the Scottish hills or flora during the 1940s and 1950s, his photographs display a uniformly high quality and form a documentary and artistic portrait of the life and landscape of Scotland - especially the highlands and islands.

He was born in Carluke, Lanarkshire in 1885, son of a Congregational minister. He had a varied education, studying science at Heriot Watt College, drawing at the Edinburgh College of Art and botany at Edinburgh University. In 1903 he was appointed as assistant gardener at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh to help the Professor of Botany to prepare lecture drawings. In 1906 he began to photograph plants and in 1914 he was appointed to the establishment as assistant in charge of the studio. He remained in this post, regraded in 1915 as 'botanist' until his retiral in 1949.

Adam bought his first camera (quarter plate) in 1899 at the age of fourteen while still at school in Edinburgh. He bought a half plate field camera made to his own specification by Watson and Son in 1908 which he was to use almost exclusively for the rest of his life although he continued to make a small number of quarter plate negatives. He later acquired a 5x4 reflex and a Leica camera but these were used sparingly. He began to keep registers of his negatives in 1901 which continue until 1956, and kept meticulous notes about his images and the printing of the negatives over which he took extreme care. He favoured producing great depth of field in his images by using very small apertures.

His botanical photography brought him to the attention of botanical writers but by the 1930s his landscape work was also in demand from authors of travel books. It was, however, the editor of The Scots Magazine, Robert Daw, who, by publishing large monthly thematic blocks of his pictures between 1944 and 1947, brought him to general attention. Until ill-health overcame him in 1956 he was the major Scottish photographic illustrator of his time with his work being used in books, magazines, newspapers and advertising materials of all kinds.

Adam's landscape photographs were especially successful. Although he always disclaimed art in his photographs, careful composition, general overall sharpness, typically high viewpoints in his mountain pictures and meticulous printing were his hallmarks. Many of his views have additional importance as historical records of the vanishing lifestyle and altered landscape, particularly of the north and west of Scotland. The record of his first visit to Mingulay in 1905, three years before its evacuation, is a notable example of this.

Arrangement

Adam's original arrangement is retained. There are different series of negatives for half, quarter and film negatives. Within each sequence the negatives are numbered sequentially in chronological order.

Conditions Governing Access

The photographic collections are currently the subject of a major digitisation project. It is the intention to have the entire archive captured in electronic form, and available (with sophisticated searching facilities) on line via the web. A full version of the software can be accessed in the Library and researchers are welcome to visit the library to use it but it is important that appointments are made in advance. Access to original photographic material may be restricted.

Note

Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

Adam's original notebooks are available listing the views in chronological order. In addition five large bound volumes of photocopies of alphabetical slip indices give subject, date taken and negative format and number.

There is an extensive list available of photographs by Adam which appear in published works.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies of images held in the photographic collection (with the exception of any photographs which are held either without copyright or under other restrictions imposed by the donor or photographer) can be ordered. Photographs thus provided for purely personal or research purposes are not subject to any fee beyond the photographic costs (for which a scale of charges is available). Prior written permission must be obtained before any further reproduction is undertaken of images supplied, for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Reproduction fees may be charged.

True photographic reprints of most images can be provided, or computer-generated prints of an increasing proportion of the collection at low, medium or high resolution. Given the fragility of the original material our preference is to provide computer prints where possible. We can also provide transparencies and a range of electronic formats.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 227 procedures. Adam himself destroyed negatives he considered to be less than perfect.

Custodial History

Negatives acquired by the publishers of The Scots Magazine, DC Thomson and Co. in 1958. In 1987 they were transferred to St Andrews University.

Bibliography

H Gilbert, 'Scotland's Photographer' in Scotland's Magazine, March 1947, pp. 26-30; Bruce Pert, 'Robert Moyes Adam', 1885-1967, in M. Kemp, Mood of the Moment: Masterworks of Photography from the University of St Andrews, (St. Andrews, 1994), pp. 42-44

Additional Information

This material is original.

Geographical Names