Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Twice Told Tuesday - A Photographic Survey Of A Scotch City

Twice Told Tuesday features a photography related article reprinted from my
collection of old photography books and magazines.

In 1903, the Dundee Photographic Society decided to carry out a comprehensive photographic survey of the city. Members undertook to photograph buildings factories churches interiors and exteriors, street scenes and even the tomb stones in the Howff, to illustrate the life of the period. This remarkable record of 3600 images, which took thirteen years to complete is housed in the Public Library. Another survey was carried out by Society members in 1992, as part of Dundee’s 800th Celebrations leaving an exceptional legacy for future generations, of life in 20th century Dundee.

The following article was written in The Amateur Weekly Photographic Magazine in 1916 describing the project.


The merit of Survey work is well recognized in certain Scottish towns, particularly at Dundee, where the photographic society of that city, undertook to do the work thoroughly, provided the civic authorities helped with the cost; and royally they appear to have responded, for, according to the chief librarian of Dundee, he was approached by the late Mr. O. B. Hatch, a member of the Dundee Photographic Society, as far back as 1903, who then consulted him as to the possibility of having a photographic survey of Dundee that would show the civic life of the city at the beginning of the twentieth century. The proposal ultimately took form, and was carried out at the very minimum of cost. A very wide range was taken in planning the subjects that should be taken and included in the survey.

Dr. Miller tells how he set about the task along with the co-operative of the Dundee Society. A map of Dundee was prepared, set out in differebt districts, and these were assigned to about thirty members of the Dundee Photographic Society, who volunteered to take negatives of buildings, factories, churches, and street scenes that would illustrate the life of the period.

The negatives taken were critically examined by a joint committee, and, if approved, three prints were taken. The negative was returned with one print to the operator, and the other two prints were retained to make a duplicate set of pictures.

These two sets will be mounted and bound in an efficient manner, as set out in the next paragraph. It is, says Dr. Millar, a duty which this generation owes to posterity, and he submits that in every English or Scottish burgh there are a few enthusiastic photographers who for a very few enthusiastic photographers who for a very nominal cost could find it possible to carry out a survey on the lines he sketched. In the Dundee collection every phase of civic life is represented. This is how they did it.

Two sets each containing 1,800 prints have been prepared, and these will form a perpetual record of Dundee as it was in the early years of the present century. One copy, which is to be preserved in the Dundee Charter Room, will be bound in pigskin to resist the influence of damp, and sealed up in cases, to be opened at some remote date.

It will require thirteen volumes to contain the prints of one set. The set for the reference library will be treated differently, the sheets being first hinged and bound in loose-leaf ledger style. The cost of binding the twenty-six volumes and mounting the prints will be about $600. For about $1,500 Dundee estimates it will be have a permanent record of the city, which will serve for many generations to come.

*Note: The spelling of Scotch used in the title of this article is the exact spelling of the word as it appeared in this reprinted 1903 article. Thank you Lisa for drawing my attention to the fact that I had not posted a note making the reason for this spelling choice clear to everyone.


Unknown. “A Photographic Survey Of A Scotch City.” The Amateur Photographer's Weekly, September 8, 1916, 230.


"Photopolis." Database and images. Dundee Library and Information Services.(http://www.dundeecity.gov.uk/photodb/main.htm : accessed 4 May 2008), photo, Dock Street (east), Dundee - Ref: WC0142.

Note: This photograph shows the eastern section of Dundee's Dock Street with junctions to Candle Lane (leading northwards to the Seagate) and Trades Lane (likewise).

The prominent central building is the Dundee Sailors' Home, which was opened with great festivities by the Earl of Dalhousie on 16th December 1881. The building features in The Illustrated London News for July of that year.

The building was subscribed by Provost Moncur (£4000) and other prominent local men; the plans were prepared by the local architects Ireland & Maclaren 'in the Elizabethan style'. In total, over £11000 was spent on the building and £1000 on furnishings.

"Photopolis." Database and images. Dundee Library and Information Services.(http://www.dundeecity.gov.uk/photodb/main.htm : accessed 4 May 2008), photo, Castle Lane, Dundee - Ref: WC0069.

Note: Castle Lane was located at the foot of Crichton Street and south end of the Greenmarket. The Caird Hall and City Chambers cover this area now. This is Castle Lane viewed from the Greenmarket.

The arch on the left-hand side of the picture is the entrance to the Vault so called because it was the Kirkyard of St Clements church at one time.

Alexander Wilson, who took this photograph, was a supervisor in a Dundee jute mill for over 20 years. He bequeathed much of his collection and £50, to cover the costs involved, to the Free Library Committee of Dundee in 1923.


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