The Scots plant collector George Forrest (1873-1932) is now known as a talented photographer, though he didn’t necessarily enjoy the process of using a cumbersome glass plate camera, as the following quotes from letters held in the Archives at RBGE testify:

Primula pinnatifida, c.1910

Primula pinnatifida, c.1910

“All of them are far from being first-class photos, but, considering the many difficulties one has to face here, they are passable. When not raining in torrents it is blowing a gale – these prints are the result of a greater number of hours work than I care to think of. To secure Primula pinnatifida I have returned to its habitat five times, each journey representing a climb of fully 4,000ft. – in all, exposed a doz. plates and so far I haven’t a negative worth showing – all of them show movement more or less, or are underexposed owing to wind and fog. It is a most heart-breaking business, and, as you know, I am not the most patient of individuals. I feel at such moments that I could hurl the camera into space and have done with it for good; it is only Scots dourness which carries me on. For the cultivation of patience, before anything, I recommend photography of alpines in Yunnan.”

G.Forrest to I.B.Balfour; 12/07/1910; from Lichiang Range (Yulong Xue Shan)


“I have been so busy I have scarce had time for meals. In conjunction with my other work I have secured over 100 photos, you may realize the work this means when I tell you all have to be developed in a tent after dark, and it isn’t dark until after eight – many nights I have been busy, after a hard day’s work ’till the early hours of morning and I can assure you am pretty well sick of it all.

“I don’t mind so much when the results are good, but the working conditions are most difficult and when I come on a whole batch of 1doz. which have been fogged in the changing bag and utterly spoilt, as I did a night ago, I feel inclined to sit down and weep!

“Then in photography, this last trip produced a new trial. The heat is now so intense during the day that we are almost smothered in swarms of flies. Amongst (them) is one small species like a miniature blue-bottle which goes for nothing but the eyes. These insects apparently imagined the lense of the camera was a beautiful open eye and most days when taking photographs, had you seen me, waiting for a lull in the almost incessant wind, trying to keep my eyes clear of those flies whilst keeping a watch on the plant, and defending the lense of the camera against their attacks you would have certainly pitied my condition. I was really driven to the verge of madness with them.”

G.Forrest to J.C.Williams (of Caerhays); 16/06/1913; from U-lu-kay (at base of Yulong Xue Shan)


Schneider’s coloured lantern slide showing a bridge over the river Mekong

Forrest also experimented with colour photograph with little success –

“I’m sorry to say my colour photography was a complete failure. Lumiere plates will not, or did not with me, stand the climate.”

(Forrest to Balfour, 1922), but there are hand coloured lantern slides in his collection – this image of a bridge over the Mekong between Tengchong and Dali in Yunnan is known to have been produced by friend and fellow traveller Camillo Schneider.

Nevertheless, despite giving himself more difficulties, Forrest, clearly not a quitter, also had a try at taking moving pictures.  Click on Forrest film to see the film credited to him.  It shows his collectors, the incredible length of the entourage he had with him and what looks like a parade with stilt walkers making its way through a small town, possibly Tengyueh/Tengchong.