Highlights from the photograph collections

Archibald Burns

Edinburgh street scene
The Horse Wynd, Edinburgh.
Salted-paper print from wet-collodion
negative, 1871. [Library reference: Phot.la.2]

Photographer Archibald Burns was based in Edinburgh between 1858 – when he is first recorded as a member of the Photographic Society of Scotland – and his death in the early 1880s.

Burns made his living principally from selling stock-images of Edinburgh for the burgeoning tourist market. He also provided photographs to illustrate books of Edinburgh.

Slum clearances

In 1871 Burns was appointed by the Edinburgh Improvement Trust to document buildings in the area between the Cowgate and what is now Chambers Street. These buildings were shortly to be demolished as part of a slum-clearance programme.

The area had been grossly over-populated, with families cramped into squalid housing. The conditions prompted John Murray's 'Handbook for Travellers in Scotland' in 1868 to describe the Cowgate as 'one of the poorest and filthiest lanes in the United Kingdom'.

Sense of upheaval

Burns's photographs were taken after the buildings had been cleared in February 1871. They capture in the desolation the impending sense of upheaval, tinged with melancholy, which is heightened by his use of the (by then) old-fashioned salted paper process.

This is one image in a collection of 32 prints.


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