The Photographs of A. B. Ovenstone and the Reinvention of the Scottish Amateur Tradition

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This paper sets out to establish a contextual understanding of the body of work created by the little-researched amateur photographer Andrew Begbie Ovenstone (1851–1935) and to problematize the status of the Victorian amateur photographer in the Scottish Photographic tradition. Whilst acknowledging the generally accepted ‘social documentary’ characteristics of the Scottish photographic tradition, this paper argues that because they were less motivated by a moral or social agenda, amateur photographers like Ovenstone offer us a more nuanced perspective on late-Victorian society. One of the primary questions to be addressed is the extent to which Ovenstone’s photographs conform to convention and how far they show signs of an original perspective. Glasgow’s burgeoning sense of cultural identity, the prevailing attitude of Empire including notions of ‘self-fashioning’ and ‘othering’, as well as the didactic propensities of the photographic magazines of the day all had an important influence on the Victorian amateur photographer. Ovenstone’s photographs indicate the effect of these powerful forces. However, alongside the forces of convention, Ovenstone reveals himself to have been a genuine experimentalist. He kept two sets of albums, one of which reveals the ‘public’ amateur photographer who adhered to the conventions, tastes and aspirations of the day, whilst another set of more ‘private’ albums reveal a photographer of distinctive and original characteristics. The paper questions the narrow ascendent canon within the Scottish Victorian photographic tradition and shows that the role of the amateur photographer outside of that tradition is still undervalued and under researched.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Victorian Culture
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2023


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