William Carrick

It’s about time Russia’s great wealth in photography be treated on these pages, surely? We’ve covered several styles of fine art and also graphic and textile design, so perhaps a short detour into another art form is apropos. I’m pleased to present William Carrick (Василий Андреевич Каррик) (1827-1878) – a Scottish-born Russian photographer of the late 18th century.

He was born into a mercantile family in Edinburgh. Shortly after his birth, his parents moved to St Petersburg and he grew up in that city. Instead of taking up the trading line, he studied architecture at college, and went to Rome to develop a portfolio. [1] When he returned to St Petersburg, he along with his associate John MacGregor started a photographic studio, which they opened at 19, Malaya Morskaya. At the time there was a great vogue for photography, and visiting foreigners remarked how “there is scarcely a more frequent sign to be met with along the principal streets, than PHOTOGRAPHER; and all the specimens…were among the finest things we have ever seen in that line.” [2]

Carrick started as a reproducer of fine arts, using a specially developed emulsion to capture with great accuracy the paintings seen at the Academy of Art. He also wanted to be a portrait photographer, but facing considerable competition in this line, turned his attention to capturing impressions of ordinary people. This gained him considerable acclaim, both at home and abroad. He and MacGregor travelled around Russia, documenting the people they encountered. His interest was in social types, and perhaps was in his time the only “European who set out to photograph other Europeans as a systematic typology of occupations.” [3]

Of course, he was not immune to the artistic mores of the period. Indeed, many of his photographs are in the same realist line as his contemporaries Ilya Repin and Ivan Kramskoi (see, for example, the one of the old man in peasant clothes below). He “always remained an artist in his work. He created artistic compositions by means of choosing the landscape, vantage point, and arranging the ethnographic groups. Carrick recorded not the dramatic social conflicts, but the true poetry of the Russian village and the Russian nature. Still, his staged scenes contain the traits of peasant life, which makes his material a valuable source of ethnographic and social information.” [4]

Russian types. Milkgirl. (1859).

Old peasant.

Russian beauty. (1870s).

Village children.

Man with a spade. (1871).

Stroganov Palace, St Petersburg. (1868).


  1. Erin Waters, “An Introduction to William Carrick“, 2 November 2010.
  2. Julie Lawson, “William Carrick: His Photography,” in Felicity Ashbee and Julie Lawson, William Carrick 1827-1878 (Trustees of the National Gallery of Scotland, 1987), p. 11.
  3. One Man’s Treasure blog, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy“, 3 April 2011.
  4. John Hannavy (ed.), Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-century Photography, Volume 1, p. 275.
  5. Michael Russell, “William Carrick“, The Herald, 7 May 2005.

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