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Ashlea House, Stow

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Ashlea House, Stow
Ashlea House, Stow
The images in this exhibition are taken in the grounds of Ashlea House in Stow, in the Borders. Ashlea House was the summer home of the well-known Edinburgh bookseller, James Thin. Born in Edinburgh in 1824, he served as an apprentice to bookseller James McIntosh who had a shop at 5 North College Street. In 1848 he founded the book shop that bore his name. Situated on South Bridge, opposite the University’s Old College, Thin’s was the main academic bookshop in Edinburgh for 150 years, remaining in the same family until 2002 when it was taken over by Blackwells.

In 1849 he married Catherine Traquair and they had seven sons. Catherine died in 1869 aged 47. In 1870, James Thin purchased a plot of land in Stow in the Scottish Borders, and had a house built, which was completed in 1873 and named Ashlea.
In 1885, at the age of 61 he married a farmer’s daughter Elizabeth Darling who died in 1905. James Thin died on 15th April 1915 at his Edinburgh home in Lauder Road aged 91.

The images in the exhibition are all autochromes, a type of early colour photography which gives the pictures a beautiful painterly quality. Autochrome was patented in 1903 by the Lumiere Brothers in France and first marketed in 1907. Before then colour photography remained in its infancy and the process was clumsy and complicated. Their new technology quickly took the world by storm to become the first viable method of creating images in colour.

The method was extremely time-consuming involving covering a glass plate with a thin wash of potato starch grains dyed red-orange, green and blue-violet, the grains of starch acting as colour filters.

After adding a thin layer of emulsion, the plate was flipped and exposed to light over a long period of exposure. This meant that images could be blurry and subjects needed to stay still but the process could create a desirable painterly effect. The light reflected through the coloured starch would then be impressed on the photo and relay real life hues.

Stereoscopic Autochromes were especially popular. Usually of a small size, they were most commonly viewed in a small hand-held box type stereoscope. Having made the Autochrome Lumiere technique portable the brothers’ invention meant photographers could travel all over the world capturing images of cultures never seen in colour before.