Photographer brings back pictures from the past

Simon Harbord is trying to bring back vintage photography
Simon Harbord is trying to bring back vintage photography

With the invention of smartphones and digital cameras we can take photos anywhere and of anything, but do we treasure photographs the way we used to?

Pictures can be instantly taken and just as easily deleted. If our computer crashes or we accidently deleted a photo on our phone or camera, those memories can be lost forever.

One photographer in St Cyrus is rejecting the modern approach and is trying to bring back vintage photography.

Simon Harbord (58) is among a handful of around 20 people in the UK using Victorian wet plate photography, which was invented in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer.

“Somehow, since the advent of digital photography, we have lost something of the wonder of capturing images.

“Now we have thousands of images on our smartphones and our computers, but often, the photographs we treasure are those old family portraits, those pictures that link us to the lives of our parents and grandparents,” he says.

In the Victorian era wet plate photographs were printed on tin or iron sheet, hence the name tintype, but Simon uses aluminium plates to create his masterpieces.

He says: “When I retired at the end of 2010, it was a chance for me to follow some of the photographic ventures that I had wanted to try.

“I discovered wet plate photography on the Internet and I just got totally fascinated by this Victorian process.”

Simon adds: “There is a community of people who are almost rejecting the modern digital approach and returning to the analogue

You can buy apps on your smartphone to give your pictures a tintype effect but nothing compares to holding the real thing in your hand says Simon.

“Wet plate photographs are timeless. They have more of a future than we do and will last beyond our lifetime.

“We don’t know how long digital photos will last, families may not pass on a digital photograph but if you pass on a wet plate photograph to your children they can pass it on to their children and grandchildren and the photos will live on through time. That’s a wonderful thing to me,”
he says.

Once Simon focuses the camera and lines you up, you have to stay painfully still otherwise the image will blur as the exposure time is around 20 seconds, much longer than any digital camera, which can take a shot in seconds.

It’s no wonder the Victorians all looked stiff and po-faced in their pictures.

The plate is prepared and used wet and cannot be allowed to dry out until it is processed. Simon pours the plate, sensitises it with silver nitrate before putting it in the camera and taking the photograph.

Afterwards, he washes the plate with a developer in a darkroom, washes it again and fixes the image, before cleaning, drying and varnishing it.

He says: “I have been a keen photographer for more than 40 years, and did my share of darkroom work in black and white and colour in the 1970s and ‘80s.

“As a retired scientist, I have a love for the sort of processes that involve chemical reactions and the magic of light on silver compounds entrances me.”

The whole process takes around 10 to 15 minutes from when the plate is prepared but once the photograph has been taken, you see the results within a couple of

Simon says: “For a vintage process that is amazing.”

Simon is offering couples portraits just in time for a Valentine’s Day present at the Van Werninck Studio on Murray Street in Montrose.

You can book a session for you and your loved one to have your photograph taken on a Victorian camera.

For more details, visit or drop into the Van Werninck Studio.