Culture Heritage Learning

Cairns Aitken 1933-2018


Cairns Aitken Funeral Booklet

We were deeply saddened last month to hear of the death of one of our many contributors at Scran, Prof. Cairns Aitken. Cairns kindly licensed to Scran over 5,000 images from his travels around the world, and we know they were well-used and well-regarded.

Cairns first approached us about seven years ago, having been pointed in our direction by colleagues at National Museums Scotland. An enthusiastic and accomplished photographer, he was keen to find a home for the many images he’d collected throughout his life, the earliest ones dating back to his post-graduate days in South Africa. Most of us keep holiday snaps, but Cairns’ images were in a different class- carefully edited and compiled into “projects” which fitted seamlessly with Scran’s own method of cataloguing material. These “projects” included a trip around Britain following in the footsteps of Bonnie Prince Charlie, a tour of every single Scottish hydro-electric scheme and visits to far-flung destinations including Costa Rica, Morocco, Russia and the Galapagos Islands. His keen eye for wildlife, ornithology and botany greatly enriched our collections and enhanced our offering to education. One of his most interesting “projects”, for us at least, was a portrait of one his sons from birth to the age of 40, one photograph per year, which proved a fascinating document of changing fashions and settings.

The work of uploading Cairns’ photos is not yet completed; we still have images of Scottish Islands and further images of Morocco still to add to Scran. As we do so, we will remember a great friend of our service. Over time, our relationship with Cairns moved from being purely professional to social; we greatly enjoyed his visits to the office, meeting for coffee or a bite to eat at his beloved New Club, or simply listening to tales from his career in medicine and his active family life.

At his funeral service, a number of speakers commented on how, as a humanist, Cairns did not hold with notions of a physical “afterlife”, but described how people are remembered after death in the hearts and memories of their friends and colleagues. Cairns’ photos are part of his legacy, and we know they will continue to be used, appreciated and enjoyed for many years after his passing.

Images © Cairns AitkenLicensor Scran 


Cairns’ obituary from the Daily Herald:



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