Invaluable record of Scottish carved stones earns photographer an honorary degree

Invaluable record of Scottish carved stones earns photographer an honorary degree

A photographer whose lens recorded ancient Pictish stones and documented everyday life in twentieth-century Scotland has been awarded an honorary degree from the University of Aberdeen.

Tom Gray was awarded a Master of the University degree in recognition of his contribution to academic study, particularly of the Pictish period.

Gray is a self-taught photographer, who honed his skills during his service as a navigator in the RAF in the Second World War before embarking on a civilian career as a photographer, and subsequently as a professional representative of Kodak Limited.

Throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s he captured images of rural and urban everyday life and wrote and illustrated for a number of publications including The Scots Magazine.

In the 1970s he embarked on a project sparked by his interest in Scotland’s ancient monuments in which he sought to record, in the highest possible quality and detail, every ancient carved stone in Scotland.

Over the next three decades he travelled the length and breadth of the country visiting the sites of monuments to create a vital photographic archive of the stones, and contributing images to numerous scholarly articles.

He also co-authored with Lesley M. Ferguson Photographing Carved Stones: A Practical Guide to Recording Scotland’s Past (Pinkfoot Press, 1997). This manual sets out the lighting techniques which Gray refined, in order to pick up the faintest surface nuances.

At the University of Aberdeen, researchers in Archaeology and History of Art still regularly draw on his photographic records.

Professor Jane Geddes, Chair in History of Art, said: “Tom Gray’s work is an invaluable resource providing insights, in compelling detail and richness, into Scotland’s great wealth of carved stones – including prehistoric rock art, Roman sculpture, Pictish symbol stones and cross slabs, and medieval religious monuments.

“These were the symbols with which Scotland’s diverse peoples marked their landscape and proclaimed their identities and beliefs and can tell us a great deal about periods for which there are few documented sources.

“Creating a photographic record of these stones was a fantastic undertaking and preserves their detail for generations to come as the stones themselves are sadly under threat from our climate, pollution and sometimes human intervention. Gray’s advanced photographic techniques also uncover detail virtually invisible to the naked eye.

“To create such an extensive record places the Scottish collective inheritance in a wider European and human context and helps us to understand its truly international significance.”

Although resident in Edinburgh, where the honorary degree was presented on his 91st birthday at his Corstorphine home, Gray holds close links to north-east Scotland.

He holds a long association with Groam House Museum in Rosemarkie where he provided a publicly accessible photographic record of the Pictish Stones of Scotland.

In 2007 he transferred his works to the care of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), where it is known as the Tom and Sybil Gray Collection. A new gallery of Tom Gray’s work is online at:

Tom Gray said:  “I am tremendously honoured by this award from the University of Aberdeen. It is very gratifying to know that decades of careful work are preserved for a new generation of researchers. It is also a lovely birthday present.”.

Aberdeen archaeologists are currently engaged in the Northern Picts Project. The King’s Museum exhibition Crafting Kingdoms: the rise of the Northern Picts, runs until 31 May 2015. Finds from recent excavations at Rhynie, and the Tillytarmont Stone, are among the objects on display. 

Professor Sir Ian Diamond, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, said: “The University of Aberdeen awards honorary degrees in recognition of individuals have attained distinction and acclaim in their respective fields.

“Our honorary graduates provide a strong example for our graduands of the success which can be achieved through dedication and passion.

“Tom Gray is certainly a worthy recipient of the Master of the University and we are delighted to welcome him to the University family as an honorary graduate.”