Edinburgh Ale: James Ballantine, Dr. George Bell, and D.O. Hill

Photography Studio Hill and Adamson British, Scottish
David Octavius Hill British, Scottish
Robert Adamson British, Scottish

Not on view

A timeless ritual—a jovial meeting over beers—is perfectly rendered by the photographic team of D. O. Hill and Robert Adamson. In the seemingly impromptu snapshot, a mirthful Hill has just risen from the table to stand by George Bell, the surgeon turned social reformer, who almost manages to keep his cool. The writer and renowned stained-glass artist, James Ballantine—in an attempt at seriousness—clutches a book, but struggles to suppress a laugh, while Adamson, operating the camera, remains outside the frame. If this “grammable” photo is eminently worthy of today’s social media—it often surfaces as the first photo of men drinking beer—its candid appearance is mostly an illusion. Because the calotype process required a fairly long exposure, outdoors in the sun, this happy hour was necessarily staged. Even so, the sociability at the heart of the scene is true to life. The picture ably conveys the good humor (and perhaps also the facial expressions) shared by friends over the local ale, “a potent fluid,” according to a contemporary account, “which almost glued the lips of the drinker together.”

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