Peter Adamson awarded first university medal

Wednesday 1 December 2004

Recently retired University photographer, Peter Adamson, was awarded the University medal during yesterday’s graduation ceremony.

Peter, who served as the University’s official photographer for 35 years, is the first recipient of the new award.

The award can be made to current or former members of staff, alumni of the University or members of the local community.

Peter was awarded the medal in recognition of his exceptional service to the University.

Peter’s citation was delivered by Professor Ian Carradice:

“Chancellor, it is my privilege to present Peter Adamson as the first recipient of the University Medal.

Peter Adamson was appointed University photographer in 1969 and until his recent retiral he spent the intervening 35 years taking photographs in St Andrews. It is a remarkable coincidence that two other Adamsons, the brothers John and Robert, were at the forefront of the first generation of St Andrews photographers in the 1840s. Many years ago I asked Peter if he was a relative of theirs, but I remember he replied: ‘No, I’m originally from Edinburgh’. Well, he may have been from Edinburgh, but he made St Andrews his home and he has made recording its townscape and its people his life’s work. His photographs have appeared over the years in many publications, from books about St Andrews to the weddings page of the St Andrews Citizen. He has created portraits of University staff, students, and many famous people who have visited St Andrews, usually to collect honorary degrees. When I asked him which of the ‘celebrities’ he had met he considered the most memorable, he responded by mentioning two men, The Dalai Lama and Rikki Fulton. I doubt if those two names have ever before appeared together in the same sentence.

As University photographer Peter has witnessed all the significant events of recent decades, as well as recording the built and natural environment and everyday life in the town, and the archive of images he has captured has provided a remarkable visual record of the University and St Andrews in the later 20th century. To understand the future value of this archive you only have to think how grateful we would have been for images of the town and its people in the pre-photographic age.

The School of Art History has been one of Peter’s main clients during his time with the University. He has produced innumerable images of art works for our teaching and I, for one, have fond memories of being cajoled into smiling for class photographs, however grumpy I may have been feeling at the time. It is not surprising to me that Peter was so successful at, and indeed won awards for, his portraiture. However, I can’t resist adding that he won no awards from the School Office for his keeping and submission of accounts and receipts, which were always somewhat chaotic. But let’s be charitable and say that as a true artist, how could we expect him also to be good with the paperwork.

In addition to his photographic work Peter has ventured into publishing, and not just books about photography. He admitted, however, to one major failure, a humorous book entitled ‘Mothers-in- Law’, that obviously failed to capture the intended niche market, since 10,000 copies were printed, but only 500 sold.

Peter’s photographic books have been much more successful, and I am happy to provide a plug for his most recent publication: St Andrews: Portrait of a City, lavishly illustrated with his photographs and with a text by Lorn Macintyre. This volume is a fitting testimony to Peter’s photographic skill at the time of his formal retiral. Peter considers it his best work, but I suspect it will not be his last. Indeed, I noticed in the current University Staff Magazine that Peter will still be available ‘for hire to University staff’ (and presumably others) ‘by private arrangement’. Knowing Peter’s boundless energy, it is inconceivable that he would have stopped work just because he reached retirement age and indeed my own department quickly re- engaged him in a casual capacity to continue producing images for Art History.

Peter is very much a St Andrew’s institution and I am thankful that the University honoured him with the award of this first medal. I was personally involved in the consultation process for the medal’s design, but at the time I had no idea that I would be involved in the conferment of the first example of this new medal. In my opinion it could not have gone to a more fitting recipient.

Chancellor in recognition of his personal contribution to the development of St Andrews and of his exceptional service to the University I invite you to present the University Medal to Peter Adamson.”


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