Caroline Douglas

AHRC TECHNE funded doctoral student

Retouching The Archive: Unknown Women in Early Photography in Scotland

Royal College of Art, London


Supervisor:  Yve Lomax

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Photography is much more than alchemy. Power and privilege were present at its very inception. The history of photography has long been constructed and reproduced in such a way that many of the living, breathing participants of its earliest period remain unknown. Principal among them are women.It is forty-five years since Linda Nochlin’s ruptural 1971 essay became a cornerstone for uncovering the institutional barriers that have shaped women’s encounters in the arts. We are only now coming to terms with how photography was gendered from its very inception. Early photographic discourse was replete with references to the female body, yet its qualification as art was secured on profoundly masculine terms (Galifot 2015). Women may have been cast as artistic, but rarely as artists in the late-Victorian era (Riches 2015). This gendering of photography, its close association with the female body, has been accompanied by the historical erasure of the agency of actual women, their hands, their thinking and self-activity that helped shape the medium through its fin de siècle phase.This PhD by project will explore the history of women in early photographic practice in Victorian Scotland, from female factory workers, ‘fillers’, at the George Washington Wilson and Co. in Aberdeen, to the unknown women in Hill and Adamson’s studio at ‘Rock House’ in Edinburgh. In doing so, it will also offer a creative response that explores the implications of this history for the discipline today. The PhD, then, will take the form of a dialogue between archive and image; empirical research and studio practice.