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  Thomas Rodger, photographer

Thomas Rodger, Jr. was born in St. Andrews, Scotland in April of 1832. Exposed to art at an early age because his father was a painter, young Thomas pursued studies in chemistry and medicine instead, at the University of St. Andrews' Madras College. After graduation, he served an apprenticeship with Dr. Malcolm, a local pharmacist, where he and fellow apprentice Dr. George Berwick began conducting their own chemistry experiments in the laboratory. This quickly got the attention of St. Andrews' chemistry lecturer, Dr. John Adamson, who soon asked the young apprentice to become his assistant. During this period, he would meet another assistant, Dr. Adamson's younger brother Robert as well as renowned physicist Sir David Brewster. Sir Brewster and Dr. Adamson were both intrigued by the relatively new daguerreotype, and eagerly mentored the young students on its chemical processes. So impressed was he with their talents, Dr. Adamson encouraged his brother and Mr. Rodger to abandon their studies and practice photography full time. Soon, the 16-year-old found a small storeroom, upon which he could proudly peddle his wares as "Thomas Rodger, Calotypist."

Dr. Adamson's instincts regarding his former assistant proved to be correct when Mr. Rodger's business grew to a point where he needed a larger studio that would bear the name, "Thomas Rodger, Photographer."
Like his contemporaries, Mr. Rodger faced frequent problems securing positive prints from gold and silver halides (salts). He then began experimenting with carbon as a preferable alternative. His first calotype exhibition, at the Aberdeen Mechanics Institute in 1853, featured portraits and architectural views of several St. Andrews' landmarks. His artistic sensitivity attracted a wide variety of patrons, from ordinary citizens to royalty. Mr. Rodger's portraits on the clearly commercial cabinet cards elevated them to works of art with their gentle and contrasting lighting, manipulation of focus, and meticulous attention to detail. One reviewer proclaimed, "Nothing can excel Mr. Rodger's power of catching a characteristic expression or attitude, and the tints are soft and delicate." He was the recipient of several honors, including being awarded several medals at the Edinburgh Photographic Exhibition of 1854. Mr. Rodger also authored an award-winning paper entitled, "Collodion Calotype."

Mr. Rodger was known for his kindness and his loyalty. After achieving professional success and financial security, he married and became the devoted father of two sons and two daughters. His close friendship with Dr. Adamson endured, and their photographic record of golf in St. Andrews is credited with introducing the game to an international audience. Thomas Rodger died on January 6, 1883 at the age of 50, but his work is very much alive as part of the St. Andrews University collection, which can be accessed online. His portraits were also featured at the St. Andrews Photography Festival in the late summer of 2016. Benjamin Disraeli once remarked, "In every art it is only the few who can be first class." Thomas Rodger was one of the esteemed few in the first class of nineteenth-century photography.

1883 The British Journal of Photography, Vol. XXX (London: Henry Greenwood), p. 53.

1897 The British Journal of Photography, Vol. XLIV (London: Henry Greenwood & Co.), pp. 442-443.

2008 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 1204.

2014 The Father (and son) of Golf (URL:

Read more:

2016 The History of Photography Archive: Thomas Rodger - Blind Stamp, ca 1850 (URL:

1883 The Photographic News, Vol. XXVII (London: Piper and Carter), p. 57.

2016 St. Andrews Photography Festival: Mr. Beatrice Broughton by Thomas Rodger (1832-1883) (URL:

2016 Thomas Rodger (URL:

Thomas Rodger (1832-1883) Early Photographer from St. Andrews (URL:

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