The water cart returning from the water pump. Photographed by Tom Kent



Orkney Photographers


The Photographic Archive holds images from a number of photographers that worked in Orkney, with the first setting up in the 1870s. The following photographers are among the most significant in the collection. Click on any name to read a short biography:


William H. Wood

Tom Kent

Robert H. Robertson

William Hourston

David Horne

Wilfred Marr

Phoenix Photography



Photograph of an unidentified man wearing a native american jacket. Photographed by William Hugh Wood      Photograph of Stromness, by R.H. Robertson   Photograph of an ingleneuk kitchen, by Tom Kent


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William H. Wood, postmaster in Finstown and one of Orkney's first photographers


William Hugh Wood was born in 1830 at Curcabreck in Rendall but spent most of his life living and working in Finstown. He was employed as Postmaster in the village, a position he took over from his father-in-law and was one of the first photographers to be working in Orkney, certainly producing photographs by the 1870s. We hold approximately 1000 of Wood's original glass plates, the majority of those being portraits. Sadly, due to the passage of time, the names of his subjects will probably never be known but the photographs have captured a moment in their lives. Some are dressed in their best clothes and others are in their working clothes or uniforms.


William H. Wood also photographed some of the buildings in the area, from lowly cottages to grander homes, and some of these images have survived to offer us a glimpse of a bygone time, a time before motor transport, central heating and all the other trappings of life that we take for granted nowadays. His photographic equipment would have been primitive compared to modern day standards but his surviving images demonstrate a high degree of skill and an obvious ability on the part of the photographer. W.H. Wood died, aged 74, on the 30th July 1903, leaving Orkney with a precious glimpse into a long forgotten way of life.


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Tom Kent, Orkney's most famous photographer


Tom Kent is probably Orkney's most famous photographer. He was born in the island of Eday in 1863 but the family moved to the Parish of Firth on the Orkney Mainland soon after. It was after emigrating to America and becoming a student of renowned Chicago photographer M.J. Steffens that he learned the skills that allowed him to set up shop on his return to Orkney. More than just a recorder of events he had an eye for composition as well as a seemingly unerring ability to be in the right place at the right time. He used the most sophisticated equipment available at the time, but that would still mean having to carry around a large heavy wooden camera and a quantity of glass plates, no mean feat in itself.


The quality of Tom Kent's photographs was recognised outside Orkney and he contributed regularly to professional magazines as well as pictorial publications such as Country Life. Sadly Tom seems to have fallen on hard times in later life and when he died, on 11th August 1936, his passing went almost unnoticed, a sad end for a man who had played such an important part in documenting life in Orkney.


View a Gallery of Tom Kent photographs...


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Robert H. Robertson, Photographer in Stromness and Westray


Robert Heddle Robertson was born at Grutha, South Ronaldsay in 1872 and moved to Stromness in the late 1890s. Stromness was a bustling port at that time due to the herring fishing industry and Robert opened two Grocery shops, one in Alfred Street and the other in Victoria Street. His photography was carried out mostly as an enthuisiastic amateur though he did sell postcards and photographic equipment in his shops. He lived and worked in Stromness for fourteen years, continuing to photograph events around Stromness and the West Mainland. However, in that time the herring industry had gradually declined and eventually Robert and his family left Stromness, taking up an appointment as manager of the Co-operative store in Pierowall, on the island of Westray.


He continued to take photographs after moving to Westray and the island is fortunate to have such an excellent photographic record of the life and people of that time. R.H. Robertson continued to take photographs for many years, living to the grand old age of ninety. He died in 1962. The Photographic Archive has over 2500 of his original glass plate negatives in the collection.


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William H. Hourston, photographer


William Hourston was born in Evie in 1895. He moved to Stromness in the 1930s and originally ran a billiard saloon and Barber shop, but his true interest was photography. The raising of the scuttled ships of the German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow gave him an opportunity to exploit his photographic skills and he produced many memorable images of the work over the years.


William had a good eye for the picturesque and took many photographs of Stromness and further afield, producing calendars and postcards of his work. He had trained as a joiner and was able to make a lot of his own darkroom equipment. He was also, for a time, an occasional Lighthouse Keeper on Suleskerry, an isolated rocky outpost about thirty miles west of Orkney. Of course, he took along his camera and recorded the huge numbers of sea birds and seals that frequented the area.


William Hourston served in both World Wars, receiving injuries during the 1st World War that affected him all his life. He continued to live in Stromness, taking photographs late into the 1950s, remaining in the town until his death in 1968.


View a gallery of Hourston photographs


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David Horne, bacon curer and photographer


David Horne was born in 1877 in Kirkwall. His father, also David, ran a bacon curing business in Kirkwall and when young David was old enough he was trained in the business, eventually taking it over when his father retired. In his spare time David was a man of many talents, producing a number of books of prose and poetry. He also contributed regularly to a number of newspapers and magazines.


David Horne Jr.'s interest in photography was purely as an amateur, but this is not to say that his work was in any way inferior. He used high quality equipment and had a degree of skill that many a professional would envy. David's photography concentrated mainly on Kirkwall and the surrounding area but he managed to capture scenes that had perhaps been neglected by other photographers at the time.


He also took a lot of photographs in the Parish of Deerness, around the home of his wife to be, Jane Anne Foubister, at Newbanks. Most of the photographs that David Horne Jr. produced were carefully preserved and, thanks to the generosity of his daughter in law, have become an important part of the Photographic Archive collection.


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J. Wilfred Marr, photographer


James Wilfred Marr was born in 1922. On leaving school he began work at the Orcadian newspaper, working there until he was called up into the Royal Navy, where he served aboard a Minesweeper. During his time in the Navy he received an award from the Royal Humane Society for saving a drowning man outside Ramsgate Harbour.


After the 2nd World War ended Wilfred rejoined the staff of The Orcadian and also took up photography again as a hobby. He soon came to be in demand for photographing functions and events around Orkney, but his biggest love was to photograph the Orkney landscape in all it's many changing moods. He was also a founding member of the Kirkwall Camera Club.


In 1957 Wilfred left The Orcadian to open a photography studio in Albert Street, Kirkwall, where he specialised in wedding photography and portraits while continuing to document the countryside around him. In 1960 he acquired Rendall's Printing Office in Stromness, but still continued with his photography, providing images for use in books and catalogues as well as an annual calendar of local views. In later life Wilfred took up painting as another way to depict the Orkney landscape that he loved so much. He retired in 1988 and, sadly, died just a few weeks after that. He left behind a fantastic collection of over 6500 negatives that have since been donated to the Photographic Archive by his widow.


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Dougie Shearer, founder of Phoenix Photography Donald Shearer of Phoenix Photography


Phoenix Photography:
Dougie Shearer was born at 43 Albert Street, Kirkwall, and lived there for most of his life. Dougie's grandfather, D.B. Peace, was a pioneer of cinema in Orkney, opening the Electric Theatre in 1912. Dougie was born in that same year so grew up steeped in the world of film and photography. The cinema business moved to new premises in 1928 with the opening of the Albert Kinema and Dougie left school at the earliest opportunity to work there. The Albert Kinema was destroyed by fire in 1947 and his uncle consequently instigated the building of the Phoenix Cinema, which opened in 1955, and at which Dougie and most of his family worked.


In light of his other interests it's unsuprising that Dougie developed an interest in photography. He had been recording local musicians and releasing the recordings through the label Phoenix Recordings, so started to take photographs for the record sleeves. This move into photography resulted in the setting up of Phoenix Photography in 1965, later to be joined by his nephew Donald Shearer.


Phoenix photography covered events in Orkney until the late 1980s, with Dougie winding down in the mid 1980s and Donald carrying on for a few more years. In addition to social photography they recorded many major events in the history of the islands such as the construction of the oil terminal on Flotta. Dougie Shearer kindly gifted his entire photographic collection to the Photographic Archive in the 1990s. He died, aged 89, on 16th March 2002.


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