Scottish photography treasure trove secured for the nation in million-pound deal

A vast private photography collection charting a century of life in Scotland has been secured for the nation.

This image of ships in Granton Harbour in Edinburgh was captured by Horatio Ross.

The £1 million purchase of nearly 15,000 images amassed by former Aberdeenshire pharmacist Murray MacKinnon will prevent parts of the collection being split up or going overseas.

His archive, described as “Scotland’s last great photographic album,” has returned to Scotland after previously being acquired by a London-based collector, who initiated discussions about a potential new sale earlier this year to the National Library and National Galleries of Scotland.

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The deal, hailed as the most important photographic acquisition for the national collections in Scotland for decades, will allow regular public exhibitions to be staged and for them to be viewed online in future.

Images from the Crimean War captured by photographer Roger Fenton are in Murray Mackinnon's collection.

Family portraits, studies of fishing and farming communities, scenes of shipbuilding, dockyards and distilleries, and loch and mountain landscapes all feature in the collection, much of which has never been on public display before.

Spanning the 1840s to the 1940s, it also includes hundreds of images captured by a host of the nation’s earliest photography pioneers, including David Octavius Hill, Robert Adamson, Horatio Ross, Cosmo Innes and James Ross, as well as some of the country’s first successful commercial photographers, including George Washington Wilson and James Valentine.

The Scottish Government has joined forces with the National Library, the National Galleries, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund charity to buy the archive from a private collector, who had earlier purchased it from Mr MacKinnon, after four months of behind-the-scenes talks to raise the funds.

A major exhibition drawn from the collection, which will be digitised over the next three years, will be staged at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh in 2019, with further displays planned to tour around Scotland.

Annie Lyden, international photography curator at the National Galleries, said: “This collection stands out for various reasons - it so so vast, it has such great variety and breadth charting around 100 years of Scottish photography, and it has also been kept entirely intact.

“The collector who had it previously had a sense that it was a really strong collection on its own and that it was worth someone else having it. The vendor who acted on their behalf felt it had to go to a Scottish collection.

“When an approach came here and to the National Library we started conversations almost immediately about whether it was something we could share. It plays to both of our strengths.

“There was a genuine risk that the collection could have gone abroad. We knew we had to advance it as fast as we could.”

Mr MacKinnon, from Dyce, who bought his first photo album at auction in Glasgow when he was just 17, would develop a life-long love of photography. He also went on to found a chain of film-processing stores in the 1980s and published a book of highlights from his collection in 2013, shortly before he sold off the collection.

Mr MacKinnon said: “The collection covers the day-to-day lives of Scottish people both rich and poor, the work they carried out including fishing and farming, in order to survive, and their social life including sport and leisure.

“These were turbulent times what with industrialisation, shipbuilding, new forms of transport, the social upheaval caused by the First World War in Europe and the Boer War in South Africa.

“The discovery of penicillin and radiography heralded the development of medicine and the pharmaceutical industry in Scotland.

“I would like to thank all the people involved in acquiring this collection for the Scottish nation, and for their great efforts in making this acquisition possible.”

Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “The MacKinnon collection is one of the most remarkable collections of Scottish photography and an invaluable resource for researchers, students and the wider public.

“Our rich cultural and artistic heritage plays an intrinsic part in boosting our economy and tackling inequalities.

“I commend the National Galleries of Scotland and National Library of Scotland for their achievement in ensuring that this unique collection can now be enjoyed by the people of Scotland, enabling the public to learn more about our fascinating early photography tradition.”