Camera found in Sunderland attic takes first picture in century

Andy Martin restored the camera after it was found in a bad condition in an attic in Sunderland

Andy Martin, from Sunderland, with his restored Victorian camera
Andy Martin, from Sunderland, with his restored Victorian camera

It had been left untouched for decades, but thanks to one North East man this Victorian studio camera has taken its first pictures in almost a century.

Standing at around 5ft tall the camera, believed to date back to 1880-1900, is a far cry from the digital revolution of today.

But after being discovered in poor condition in a Sunderland attic, keen photographer Andy Martin has spent the best part of two years bringing the studio camera back to life.

“I got a call from a friend probably going back two years and their uncle had a garage place up in Roker in Sunderland,” said 29-year-old Andy.

“He was doing out the attic and this camera had been in there for at least 70 years.”

Knowing Andy was a big fan of the older art of photography, his friend knew the camera would find a good home with him.

“It was in a really sorry state, covered in dust and paint and unfortunately woodworm had got to quite a lot of the stand to the camera,” said Andy, of Sunderland.

But he took the studio camera and set about restoring it to its former glory.

“I got it home and started stripping it down,” said Andy. “It’s huge, the plates it takes are 15inches square. The camera itself on the stand it was 5ft tall, it’s quite a size.”

Andy set about doing a lot of the work himself and said it was good fortune that the camera was made of mahogany as it was protected from woodworm.

“The bellows are an integral part of the camera and they were destroyed, they are the middle bit made up of fabric and wood and they were in bits,” said Andy

“I found a company in Birmingham which still made bellows and gave them a call. It was no problem for them and they made replicas of the old ones.

“It got to the point, two or three months in, when the camera was rebuilt but one part was missing, the plate holder. With it being a rare camera you could not just buy it off the shelf so it put the project on hold until I found one.

“Someone in Bradford makes old cameras and he said to bring the camera down and a couple of weeks later he had the plate holder I needed.”

The next step was to test it making images, and the process Andy used dates back to 1851 using a chemical called collodion.

“It involves pouring a chemical called collodion on to the glass or metal plates then the plates are sensitised in silver nitrate which makes it light sensitive,” said Andy.

“You take a picture, go back to the dark room and develop the plate, it happens in the space of les than 20 minutes as you need to do it when the plate is wet. That’s the process I wanted to do, the wetplate technique,” said Andy, who has been practising the technique for four years.

Andy had to gather the chemicals and is constantly working on improving the camera.

“It does make an image, it needs a lot more testing,” said Andy. “It was the first picture that camera had taken in 100 years, it was quite a day when we got the first plate. I have a studio in Sunderland and my friend Matty has one next door so he was my test.

“I will just carry on getting it properly up and running, I have a few projects in mind for it,” added Andy, who wants to take the camera out around Sunderland and the North East.

The nameplate of the maker of the camera was based in St Nicholas’ buildings in Newcastle and Andy believes it must have belonged to a studio or a wealthy family due to how expensive it would have been when it was made.

“I have to do some more research but the building it came from was owned by the Doxfords, a big family in the North East,” he said. “It is the type of camera an every day person could not afford.”

To view Andy’s work visit www.silversunbeam.co.uk .

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