Dr Werner Kissling: A Retrospective

Dr Werner Kissling (1895-1988) was a German photographer and ethnographer who spent most of his life documenting Scottish crafts, architecture, and agricultural practices. He was associated with Dumfries Museum from the mid-1950s until his death in 1988. These photographs were selected by Dr Kissling himself for an exhibition held at Dumfries Museum in 1978, Werner Kissling: A Retrospective. Taken over a period of fifty years, they illustrate the diverse craft, building, and technical practices of people from the Western Isles, Yorkshire, Dumfries and Galloway and Aotearoa New Zealand. Now cared for by Dumfries museum, Dr Kissling's archive is a valuable record of skills, some of which are still practised today and some of which are only remembered. Dr Kissling's original notes for the exhibition have been transcribed from the back of the photographs and reproduced here, along with information added by researcher, Kirsty Kernohan as part of the Dr Werner Kissling Project 2019. More of Dr Kissling photographs of blacksmithing in Dumfries and Galloway can be seen here and an online exhibition about his life is available here. This research was supported by The Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities.

Dr Werner Kissling was born in Silesia in 1895, the third son of a wealthy brewing family. He served in both the German army and the navy during the First World War, becoming a diplomat for the new Weimar Republic in 1919. He was posted to London In 1926 but in 1931 the rise of the Nazi movement influenced his decision to resign from the German diplomatic service.

Instead, he became a scholar and photographer. After 1929 He spent time in the Western Isles, particularly South Uist and Eriskay, photographing people, crafts, and buildings. In 1934, he shot footage for the first film made using the Gaelic language, Eriskay: A Poem of Remote Lives. During this time he was also a researcher at The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge. He wrote on the architecture of Hebridean black houses and travelled to New Zealand to photograph Māori arts and crafts in 1938.

As a former German diplomat, Kissling was interned in the Tower of London and on the Isle of Man between 1939 and 1942. After 1942, Kissling continued to take photographs, contributing to research at the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh and the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies at the University of Leeds.

In 1968 he settled in Dumfries, where he spent the last 20 years of his life. He worked with Dumfries Museum as an anthropologist and photographer recording local buildings, crafts and traditional practices. He also collected local historic artefacts, many of which are now in Dumfries Museum. Dr Kissling died in Dumfries in 1988. He is remembered as a man who was interested in everything, and whose warmth and presence encouraged people to allow him to document their lives. His gravestone is inscribed with the words: SOLDIER, DIPLOMAT, SCHOLAR, GENTLEMAN.

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