James D. Robertson was born in 1813. Little about his background is known beyond that his father was English. He apprenticed in London as a gem engraver under William Wyon, the Royal Mint's chief engraver. Throughout the 1830s, his works were exhibited at the Royal Academy. Mr. Robertson was named chief engraver at Constantinople's Imperial Mint in 1850, where his interest in photography began. He started with calotypes and later mastered the fledgling art of landscape photography, taking what are believed to be the first panoramic images of Constantinople and Athens. The Athenaeum published 20 of these panoramas, featured in an article entitled, "Photographic Views of Constantinople." In 1854, Mr. Robertson's series entitled "Grecian Antiquities," were exhibited by London's Society of Arts.
By the mid-1850s, Mr. Robertson was held in such high professional esteem, several of his 360-degree panoramic views of Istanbul were purchased by Prince Albert, reportedly the first photographic additions to the Royal Collection. Mr. Robertson's talent for documenting monuments is readily apparent in his photographs of Istanbul’s Hippodrome Obelisk, as Heinz and Bridget Ann Henisch recounted in their text, The Photographic Experience, 1839-1914: "[As far as possible [Robertson] tried to isolate the venerated subject matter from the distractions of contemporary life, with just a few small human figures to give a sense of scale."
Mr. Robertson's business and reputation grew when he partnered with fellow photographer Felice Beato, with whom he opened a studio in Pera (Istanbul) in 1854. Later that year, he married Mr. Beato's sister, Leonilda, with whom he had three daughters. Mr. Robertson accompanied Felice and Antonio Beato to Balaklava, Crimea, where they resumed photographing the Crimean War, following the departure of Roger Fenton. In September 1855, the team produced 60 images of Sebastopol in the Crimean Peninsula. One of the earliest known wartime photographers, Mr. Robertson focused less on bodies than on the physical costs of war, capturing ravaged buildings and military installations.
When he left Crimea, Mr. Robertson and his camera paused briefly in Malta, and after selling several of those photographs, he joined his brothers-in-law in Egypt, continuing into the Holy Land, and then returned briefly to Greece. In 1858, they journeyed to India to photograph the Indian Rebellion. Mr. Robertson produced a 7-ft. panorama of Lucknow in Northern India. The partnership between Mr. Robertson and Mr. Beato ended in 1860, but Mr. Robertson continued conducting business as "Robertson & Beato" in 1867. After retiring in 1881, the ailing Mr. Robertson and his family moved to Yokohama, Japan, where he rejoined his brother-in-law Felice Beato. James Robertson died in his adopted home of Japan on April 18, 1888. His original photographs are now part of the Omer M Koc Collection, in Istanbul, Turkey, and in 2011, the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection of Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island) obtained five of Mr. Robertson's Crimean War salt prints.
1962 Creative Photography: Aesthetic Trends, 1839-1960 by Helmut Gernsheim (New York: Dover Publications, Inc.), p. 244.
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 1200-1202.
2007 Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 by Roger Taylor (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art), p. 363.
2017 James Robertson’s Crimean Photographs (URL: https://blogs.brown.edu/askb/2012/02/03/james-robertsons-crimean-photographs).
2010 Japan (Mainz, Germany: PediaPress GmbH), p. 309.
2017 Panorama of Sebastopol from the Malakoff Tower, Crimea (Three-Plate Panorama), 1855 (URL: http://www.artnet.com/artists/robertson-beato/panorama-of-sebastopol-from-the-malakoff-tower-z-ssQ7jrTYKt2xm9Hi9ifg2).
2017 Robertson and Beato (URL: http://photoauthentication.com/robertson-beato.html).
2017 Robertson of Constantinople by Victoria Khroundina (URL: http://www.cornucopia.net/blog/robertson-of-constantinople).
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