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PSS - 2nd Exhibition

December 1857

Even Greater Success

The second PSS Exhibition opened on 12 December 1857 on an upper floor of 2 St David Street, on the corner of Princes Street, now part of Jenners’ department store. After the exhibition had concluded, the PSS Council reported:

“The first Exhibition of PSS was excellent; the second was in every respect superior.  Notwithstanding the depression caused by the Indian War and the recent commercial crisis … the number of season tickets sold was more than double, and the number of pictures sold more than treble those for last year.”    
[PSS Council comment from 1858 AGM]

Admission Charges

-  10am to 5pm @ 1/-    

-  7pm to 9pm @ 6d or 3 for 1/-     

-  Season tickets 2/6d


The Society clearly had some difficulty in placing placards around the City to advertise its exhibition:

"Your letter of 28 Ultimo requesting permission to the Photographic Society to place Boards in certain places was yesterday submitted to the Council, who were pleased to  refuse this application    -  I am sir, Your Obed. Servant,  John Sinclair"    

[Edinburgh Council:  12 December 1857]

"I have observed that a large placard about the Photographic Society's exhibition has without Authority this day been fixed to the railing belonging to the Prison Grounds.  I request that you will immediately cause it to be removed"
[Edinburgh Prison:  12 December 1857]

The Exhibition made £35 profit, including £18 commission on the sale of photos. 

There were 853 photographs exhibited.  Only seven of the hundred artists used the old calotype process.  Those by Walker,  Zeigler, Duncan and Mr Walker were regarded as the most successful.

[The Witness:  26 December 1857]


Entries included: 

  • Landscapes from Fenton and GW Wilson

  • Charming little pictures from Caldesi & Montecchi
    [Caledonian Mercury:  29 December 1857]

  • Portraits from  Tunny, Szabo, RodgerG&D Hay and Truefitt, all from Scotland

  • Collodian Portraits by Moffat, slightly touched

  • Daguerreotypes and mounted stereoscopic slides by Claudet

  • Architectural photography from Bisson Freres

  • An entry from Prince Albert, photographs by Fenton, Frith and Le Grey

  • Portraits from HW Diamond

  • Photos by Mudd    

  • "Art Photos" by OG Rejlander and Lake Price

  • A photograph of Livingstone, the African traveller by Rodger of St Andrews

  • Several Scottish Highland views by amateurs, Mr & Mrs Horatio Ross of Rossie

  • Group portraits and different stages of playing golf by Dr Adamson and T Rodgers

There were no entries to this exhibition from Ross & Thomson.  Instead, the exhibited over 30 photographs in the Art Manufacturers' Association Exhibition in Edinburgh.

Claudet also exhibited at the Art Manufacturers' Exhibition.

Press Comment

 The exhibition rooms attracted mixed comment in the Press:

"Though the exhibition rooms are but the ordinary apartments of a dwelling house converted and fitted up for the purpose, the place is a considerable improvement on that in which the 1st exhibition took place in as much as it is more central, and especially as it affords better and diffused lighting for display"

[The Courant:  12 December 1857]

The Photographic Society is this year rather unfortunately located on the corner of Princes Street, entering from St David’s Street, up a narrow trap stair, immediately over Messrs. Kennington & Jenner’s establishment, occupying several small rooms, rather indifferently lighted for this dark season of the year."

 [The Witness:  26 December 1857]

Photography and Art

The question of photography and art arose again, just as it had at the 1st PSS Exhibition.  On this occasion, one of the questions was whether or not photography was a suitable medium for copying art.  The Caledonian Mercury and the Daily Express took very different lines:

“Many copies of paintings, engravings, lithographs &c. are interspersed through the rooms, and show how successfully and correctly such works  be duplicated in this manner.”

[Caledonian Mercury:  29 December 1857]

“Of these, we have no hesitation in affirming that they are a viscous and illegitimate application of the photographic art, in no sense calculated to honour the artist whose pictures are copied, nor to bring out the peculiar excellence of photography.”

If any confirmation of these remarks was needed, it would be found in the two volumes of photographs from pictures in the Art Treasures Exhibition, Manchester, on view in the room.  A collection of more unmitigated rubbish, considered as photography, it has never been our bad fortune to see.”

 [Daily Express:  28 December 1857]

OG Rejlander

The Swedish photographer, OG Rejlander,  based in Wolverhampton, was keen to promote photography as a fine art.  He used multiple negatives to create his images. 

He submitted Two Ways of Life to the 2nd PSS Exhibition.  This was a photograph created in the form of a painting, using 32 negatives, which had previously been highly praised.  It had been exhibited at Manchester earlier in the year.

But the PSS Hanging Committee declined to accept the picture for the PSS Exhibition because of its semi-nude female figures. 

The Daily Express was particularly vexed by the Hanging Committee’s decision.  It wrote on 1 January 1858:

“OG Rejlander: -  ‘Two Ways of Life’ was exhibited in the Art Treasures Exhibition in Manchester.  The Prince Consort has three copies of it.  Sir David Brewster, the President has one copy.  It will scarcely be credited that the amateur ‘hanging committee’ of PSS rejected it because there were half-draped female figures in it. 

We shall expect to hear some of these fanatics going up to the Royal Institution … poking their finical walking sticks through the plump limbs of Tibaldi’s Graces.

Call at Mr Wood’s, 88 Princes Street, where the rejected photograph may be seen”

In fact, a compromise may have been reached.  I have read a report that the picture was displayed with one half hidden behind a draped cloth, though I'm not sure where it was on display in this way.

Two Ways of Life

This is the photograph which caused the controversy:

Two Ways of Life

O G Rejlander

Two Ways of Life  -  Oscar Gustav Rejlander

©  The Royal Photographic Society, Bath, England.  web site

This photograph was made using thirty different negatives.  PSS rejected this photograph when it was submitted to their Exhibition.  Edinburgh’s professional photographers were unhappy with this decision.  Most soon left the PSS.  Many subsequently joined EPS when it was established in 1861.



Special General Meeting

The Professional Photographers within the Society were unhappy with the decision of the PSS Hanging Committee, particularly as the this committee consisted almost entirely of amateurs.

A special meeting was called on 12 January 1858, by eight professional photographers [almost all based in Princes Street], one lithographer and one bookseller.  Two Motions were presented to the Meeting.  They were:

“1. In all time coming, the Council of the Photographic Society of Scotland should be totally composed of practical amateur and professional photographers” 

“2. Of three Members of the Hanging Committee, two of these shall be professional Members of the Society, or in case of future years, the Hanging Committee should be enlarged, that there be at least a majority of professionals.”

James Ross spoke in favour of the motions. 

Horatio Ross spoke against the motions. 

The amateurs took steps to ensure that they were well represented at the meeting.  Both motions were heavily defeated. 

Most of Edinburgh’s professional photographers resigned from PSS shortly afterwards.  Many went on to become Members of Edinburgh Photographic Society, which was established on 20 February 1861. 


Other Photographs in Exhibitions


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