From the very early years of the medium Edinburgh was a site of photographic innovation; its monuments and public buildings were obvious targets for the lens. The picturesque qualities of the city were highly praised – photographers negotiated a tricky boundary between the imagined perfection of Edinburgh and a semi-industrial urban environment undergoing perpetual change. For some in the 1840s this meant following a well established tourist itinerary: from Calton Hill, along Princes Street and up to the Castle; then into the Old Town, down the High Street, along the Cannongate and on to Holyrood Palace. Buildings and views chosen for photography were dense with literary and historical association and often reflected antiquarian interests. Key sites – by photographers such as John Muir Wood and Hill and Adamson – include the Scott Monument, John Knox’s house, the Cannongate Tolbooth and Greyfriars’ Churchyard. The view of Edinburgh they established – medieval, anti-modern, anachronistic even – was quickly set in stone.

By the 1840s Edinburgh was a thoroughly modern city, subject to the upheaval of railway building and deadly cholera outbreaks, but also with some of the finest contemporary architecture in the world. On the whole, however, photographers turn their attention to the medieval city, such as Thomas Keith who produced an extended photographic investigation of the wynds and closes of the Old Town in the mid 1850s, or Archibald Burns who published Picturesque Bits from Old Edinburgh in 1868. Others, such as William Donaldson Clark, artfully contrasted the Old Town with the New.

However, the image of Edinburgh that predominates in photography today – beloved by tourists and residents alike – is that of the northern romantic capital.
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