Information and discussion on all aspects of British photographic history
Alexander McGlashon (sometimes spelled McGlashan) was born in 1811 and established a successful career as a copperplate printer in Edinburgh; examples of his printed work from about 1840 onwards can be found in various museums. As a member of the Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland he clearly had interests beyond the merely mundane and it is not surprising that he became interested in the relatively new medium of photography; while retaining his printing business this seems to have become his main interest. It is difficult to be certain of the date that he first took to photography but two portraits of Thomas Smellie dated 1854 are held by the Eastman Museum; it is likely that he was also producing stereographs at this time.
In 1854 he took the momentous decision to travel to Melbourne in Australia to further his photographic career. He ran M’Glashon’s photographic gallery from 7 Collins Street East, charging from 5 shillings for a portrait in glass. Several stereographs from this period are held in museums – there is a reasonable case for believing that he may have introduced the stereo process to Australia. Two fine prints of Collins Street in Melbourne have also survived.
He returned to Edinburgh in 1857 where he continued to be very active in photography. Stereographs were hugely popular and he produced many of these featuring views of Edinburgh and central Scotland; an advert he placed in an Edinburgh magazine in 1858 listed 172 stereos. While many of the stereos are well executed “tourist” shots he also in some views explored a more consciously artistic approach. From an embossed retailer's stamp on some of these stereos we know that they were also being sold in USA, suggesting that McGlashon was having considerable success in his photographic business. He lectured on the theory and practice of photography in the Edinburgh Institute. He was a council member of the Edinburgh Photographic Society whose meetings he on occasion chaired and indeed he also gave talks to them on photographic subjects. In addition he was involved in photographic projects with Octavius Hill including exhibiting at the London International exhibition in 1862.
He photographed many well known individuals, as was reported in the contemporary press, leading to the granting of a royal warrant in 1863 when, in November, in partnership with John Walker he photographed the Princes Alfred and William of Hesse, the first occasion on which a member of the royal family sat for an Edinburgh photographer. The two McGlashon portraits of the top selling Victorian novelist Mrs Gaskell are particularly well known being the only photographs of her.
McGlashon continued to be actively involved in photography into the 1870s. He died in Edinburgh in 1877. Fortunately many of his photographs have survived and we are now able to appreciate his importance in mid century Edinburgh photographic circles.
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