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Robert Moyes Adam

Robert Adam was a skilled botanical illustrator


The University of St Andrews holds an extensive collection of
Robert M. Adam's photographs dating from about 1902 to 1956,
with much of it available on-line. Click here for more information.

Robert Moyes Adam (1885-1967)

Robert M Adam was born in Carluke, Lanarkshire. At the age of fourteen he bought his first camera. In 1908 he had a half plate field camera made to his own specification, which he was to use almost exclusively for the rest of his life. He later acquired a 5x4 reflex and a Leica camera but these were only used sparingly. From 1901 until 1956, he compiled meticulous registers of his negatives and often annotated and even illustrated the negative envelopes. He produced great depth of field in his photographs by the use of very small apertures.

Having studied science at Heriot Watt College, he went on to develop his artistic skills at Edinburgh College of Art, and subsequently specialised in botany at the University of Edinburgh. In 1903 he was appointed assistant gardener at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, where he prepared lecture illustrations for the professor of botany. He also began photographing plants in 1906 and in 1914 was appointed assistant in charge of the studio. His post was regraded to that of 'botanist' in 1915 and he remained in this post until 1949.

It was as a landscape photographer, however, that he became known. Widely published, particularly in regular features in the Scots Magazine and many of the books published about the Scottish hills or flora during the 1940s and 1950s, his photographs display a uniformly high quality and form a documentary and artistic portrait of the life and landscape of Scotland - especially the highlands and islands.

The example below shows Schiehallion, with the RiverTummel at the exit to Loch Rannoch, August 1933.

His negative collection and original indices were acquired by the publishers of "The Scots Magazine", DC Thomson and Co, Dundee in 1958, who kindly gifted them to the University of St Andrews in 1987.  

© Reproduced by kind permission University of St Andrews Library

When R. M. Adam died in Edinburgh in November 1967 at the age of 82. the Botanical Society lost one of its older members; he was elected a fellow in 1915.
A son of the manse. he was born at Carluke in 1885 and early in life became greatly interested in photography. It was his skill in this which led to an appointment in 1914 at the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden. where he was in charge oi the Studio until his retirement in 1949, and during this period he acted also as botanical artist to our Society. He told me once that his aim was to photograph every species which came into flower for the first time in the Garden. but whether he succeeded in doing so I do not know. His plant portraits. however. were a frequent feature of numerous publications both botanical and horticultural.
To the general public Adam was probably better known as an exceptionally good photographer of Scottish scenery. and many of his fine studies appeared as half-page pictures in The Scotsman. There were few parts of the Highlands and islands he had not explored. and to be with him in the field. armed with half-plate camera and an astonishing amount of equipment. was to learn something of the man and his methods. He would spend an hour or longer over a single alpine plant. and once on a particularly windy day on the summit of Ben Lawers he turned to me and said in answer to a question of mine. “I never take a photograph; I only expose a plate.”
A regular contribution to the proceedings of this Society was his annual report of the Alpine Botanical Club—that small and exclusive group the members of which climbed at least one Scottish mountain once a year. Each report may not have occupied much space in the Society's Transactions. but its relative brevity gave little idea of the verbal performance which preceded its appearance in print. For Robert Adam had a wonderful command ot language and he loved to talk at length.
Towards the end of its history. the Alpine Club became very much his own child. He acted as secretary and treasurer and made all arrangements tor meetings. When its activities eventually came to an end. I detected a note of sadness in a letter I received from him telling me he had handed over the Club's insignia to the safe-keeping of the parent Society.
His large collection ot about 15,000 plates and 60,000 prints was acquired by a firm in Dundee. One wonders if a selection may one day appear in book torm. It could be a remarkable record ot the Scottish flora and the Scottish scene.
J. R. Matthews   University Aberdeen Regius Chair of Botany (1934-1959)  Reproduced by kind permission.

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Created before 2012