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  Horatio Ross, Photographer

Horatio Ross, the "Landseer of amateur photography," was born to Hercules and Henrietta (Parish) Ross at the family's estate, Rossie Castle, in Forfarshire (now Angus), Scotland on September 5, 1801. At the age of 18, he joined the 14th King's Light Dragoons, and retired in 1826 with the rank of Captain. Briefly interested in politics, Captain Ross was elected to Parliament, representing the districts of Aberdeen and Montrose, serving until 1834, the year he married Justine Henriette Macrae. Their half-century union produced a quintet of sons: Horatio Jr., known as "Hoddy"; Edward, Hercules, Colin, and Robert.

A close friendship with his parish preacher, James Brewster (brother of photographic pioneer Sir David Brewster) is believed have been Captain Ross's first introduction to photography, but he did not start making landscape daguerreotypes until around 1843. One of his first known photographs is an image of his oldest son fishing with a family friend, a quarter-plate daguerreotype known as "Hoddy and John Munro Fishing at Flaipool" (1847). The blue-tinged sky was actually "a happy optical accident," known as solarisation that results from highly contrasted subjects. A champion sportsman, Captain Ross frequently combined his love of shooting and deer stalking with his passion for photography, chronicling his outings with family and friends. His eye for contrast, light and shadow was far superior to those of his amateur contemporaries. Captain Ross applied his extensive hunting topographical knowledge to his landscapes of trees, streams, waterfalls, and rocky terrain. He traveled to remote locations with which he was well familiar to offer unique glimpses of the Scottish countryside from a hunter's perspective.

However, within a few years, Captain Ross recognized the limitations of plate photography, and educated himself on William Henry Fox Talbot's calotype techniques. In 1856, he presented a number of calotypes at a Photographic Society of Scotland exhibition. But his foray into calotypes was short-lived as he discovered waxed-paper negatives provided him with more satisfactory results. At the Birmingham Photographic Society exhibition held the following year, Captain Ross exhibited more waxed paper than collodion prints. He was also an active participant in promoting photography throughout Great Britain, serving as vice president of the Photographic Society of Scotland (an organization he co-founded) from 1856 until 1863. In his 1857 paper entitled, "On the Comparative Merits of the Different Processes of Photography in Taking Views in Mountainous Districts," he declared that the "proper field for the Amateur's labor is in the open air. Portraiture he should leave in the hands of the professional gentlemen." Captain Ross's elite status was further cemented when he was selected to present the Society's gold medal to Mr. Talbot as one of photography's founding fathers.

Eighty-five-year-old Horatio Ross died at Rossie Lodge in Inverness-shire, Scotland on December 6, 1886. Although he remains relatively unknown internationally, his landscapes have been often compared to those of his more famous professional contemporary, Roger Fenton. Eight of Captain Ross's early daguerreotypes reside in London's Victoria and Albert Museum, and other works are featured in the collections of the London Science Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas.

2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 1211-1213.

2013 Horatio Ross (URL:

2007 Impressed by Light by Roger Taylor (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art), p. 365.

2008 'Hoddy and John Munro Fishing at Flaipool', photograph, Great Britain, 1847 (URL:

2012 Photography of Victorian Scotland by Roddy Simpson (Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press Ltd.), p. 16.

2017 Horatio Ross (URL:

2017 The Scottish Highlands (URL:

2002 Transactions and Encounters edited by edited by Roger Luckhurst and Josephine McDonagh (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press), p. 71.

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2019-01-06 21:01:05

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