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Thomas Keith

Dr. Thomas Keith, etching with Keith's signature (courtesy of Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh)

In its first two decades, the art of photography on paper succeeded particularly well in Scotland with consistently beautiful and substantial bodies of photographic work. The highly regarded Scottish surgeon, Dr. Thomas Keith (Scottish, 1827-1895), was part of a close knit artistic and scientific community. He mastered the waxed paper process and produced startlingly modern images that exploited bold masses of light and shade. A description of his surgical practice as “ceaseless vigilance and intense personal attention to detail” could apply to his photography practice as well. His photographs are almost all architecture and landscape, most concentrated on subjects in Edinburgh and its immediate surroundings. Some of Keith’s photographic expeditions were made together with his brother-in-law, John Forbes White, and art historian, collector and photographer.
    There is no account of how of why Keith started in photography, but it most likely resulted from family connections to Hill & Adamson and Sir David Brewster. He emerged as a leader among gentlemen amateurs using paper negatives at a time when most professionals were using glass negatives. His photographic work slipped into obscurity after his death, later revived by Alvin Langdon Coburn who acquired some Keith negatives and bequeathed them to the George Eastman House. Keith’s photographs are primarily known through the album of 100 salt prints from paper negatives Fragments of Edinburgh in the Olden Time (circa 1854-1857) now in the collection of the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

 

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