Orkney Islands Council
Working together for a better Orkney

The Way it Was – an exhibition of Victorian photographs

The Way it Was – an exhibition of Victorian photographs
09 November 2018

Pictures of the islands by two pioneering photographers are to go on show at the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall.

Original photographs by George Washington Wilson and James Valentine form part of the museum’s permanent collection and are being exhibited for the first time in a quarter of a century.

Both men visited Orkney in the 1880s, with Wilson returning again in the very early 1890s.

The exhibition of their work, ‘The Way it Was’, opens on Saturday 10 November and runs until Saturday 1 December.

George Washington Wilson (1823-93) was an Aberdeen photographer and painter who set up a studio as a portrait artist in the city in 1849, before turning to photography in 1852.

He soon branched out to become a highly regarded landscape photographer and was made the Queen’s Photographer in Scotland. He also produced stereoscopic photographs, which gave the viewer a 3D image.

James Valentine (1815-79) was a Dundee photographer who opened a business in the city in 1851.

From around 1860 he decided to emulate the success of George Washington Wilson’s landscape photography by travelling around Scotland, capturing images that he could use as large prints and postcards. Valentine also had royal commissions and created stereoscopic images as well.

Orkney Museum Exhibitions Officer Tom Muir said: “This is a hugely important collection of early photographs of Orkney, showing the changing towns, landscape and life in the islands.

“From fishermen in Rackwick to women burning kelp in Birsay, it lifts the veil to give us a glimpse of an earlier and harder life, yet a life closer to nature and more in harmony with it.

“Both Kirkwall and Stromness are a lot smaller than they are now and the ships using their harbours were as likely to use sail as steam power. Some views remain virtually the same while others have changed vastly.

“My favourite images are of ordinary folk going about their daily lives. These photographs have been displayed before, but not for 25 years, so it’s time for a new generation to have the opportunity to enjoy them.”

The Orkney Museum is open from Monday to Saturday, from 10.30 -12.30, and 13.30 - 17.00. Admission is free.