Picture gallery: 14,000 photographs secured for Scotland

People in Scotland are being asked to help curate an amazing new collection of photographs which has been purchased for the nation.

Scotland at work...from the Gladstone presentation album of Scottish scenery from 1879-80. It is images like this by commercial photographers such as George Washington Wilson and James Valentine that members of the public may be able to help caption for future generations to enjoy. (Contributed image)
Scotland at work...from the Gladstone presentation album of Scottish scenery from 1879-80. It is images like this by commercial photographers such as George Washington Wilson and James Valentine that members of the public may be able to help caption for future generations to enjoy. (Contributed image)

A special collaboration between the National Library of Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland, the MacKinnon Collection boasts more than 14,000 images of Scotland and its people.

Dating from the earliest days of photography in the 1840s through to the 1940s, it was jointly purchased with help from the Scottish Government, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Art Fund.

Family portraits, working life, street scenes, sporting pursuits, shops, trams, monuments and mountains – they are all covered, and more besides, in this fascinating collection.

Murray MacKinnon, who ran a chain of film-processing stores, originally compiled the collection from his pharmacy in Dyce, near Aberdeen.

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

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

Murray sold the collection to a private collector.

It was believed to be one of the last great collections of Scottish photography still in private hands.

Some two years ago, though, the National Library of Scotland was approached by an agent asking if it would be interested in purchasing the MacKinnon Collection.

Afraid it might be bought and taken overseas, the Library joined forces with the National Galleries to ensure it remained safely on Scottish soil.

And thanks to the many partners involved, the collection has been procured for future generations.

So far, only 22 pictures have been digitised but the aim in the next three years is for each of the 14,000 or so images to be scanned and digitised – so that people around the country can enjoy this superb collection.

A curator will be specially employed to take on the mammoth project.

But National Library curator Dr Graham Hogg has already had a sneak peek at some of the treasures waiting to be discovered.

He said: “There are albums, loose prints, glass plates – it really is a pretty impressive collection.

“Overall, their condition is very good but some pictures will need conservation before they are scanned.

“That’s not surprising given that some of the pictures are now more than 100 years old.

“The collection covers every town and hamlet in Scotland but we’ve only been able to see a fraction so far.

“We want to get all of the images digitised as a lot of them don’t have captions.

“It will be a challenge to find out who the people are or where the pictures were taken – and that’s where the public can help.

“We’ll use social media to try to find out everything we can about each picture.

“We’ve not had a chance to count them all yet but there are between 14,000 and 15,000 prints.

“For me, one of the most interesting things is the social history they depict.

“The collection shows ordinary Scots at work, and play, from the 1840s all the way through to the 1940s.”

Among the treasures are more than 600 original photographs from the pioneering days of photography; portraits of Scottish regiments from the Crimean War; studies of farming and fishing communities in remote villages and hamlets and a series of albums and prints depicting life in the main towns and cities from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Graham added: “We already have some great collections but this is the icing on the cake.

“These pictures will help bring some of our books to life as the images will be available to view alongside our print collection.”

A major exhibition of the MacKinnon Collection will be held at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery next year before it goes on tour to three galleries around the country.

The entire collection will also be digitised over the next three years and made available online.

For more information, visit https://www.nls.uk/collections/photographs/mackinnon.

£1 million price tag to purchase MacKinnon Collection

The £1 million photography collection was purchased from a private collector, who bought it from Murray MacKinnon.

Several partners pitched in to ensure it was not lost to another private collector or broken up and shipped overseas.

The Heritage Lottery Fund stumped up £350,000, with the Scottish Government spending £300,000, the National Library of Scotland £125,000, National Galleries of Scotland £125,000 and the Art Fund £100,000.

The National Library of Scotland is a major European research library and one of the world’s leading centres for the study of Scotland and the Scots – an information treasure trove for Scotland’s knowledge, history and culture.

The National Galleries of Scotland looks after one of the world’s finest collections of Western art, ranging from the Middle Ages to the present day, including masterpieces by Titian, Rembrandt, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso and Magritte. These holdings include the national collection of Scottish art, which is displayed in an international context.

Art Fund is the national fund-raising charity for art. In the past five years alone, Art Fund has given £34 million to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections.

It also helps museums share their collections with wider audiences by supporting a range of tours and exhibitions.

And the fund makes additional grants to support the training and professional development of curators.