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1865 Early Blairgowrie and Rattray Photographers



Watch the Birdie!

To have heard a photographer give that instruction you would need to be of a certain age!

Like billions of people around the world, you probably own a mobile phone with a built-in camera.  With a simple click you have a good quality photograph.  Photography has progressed by giant strides, and the history of its development (excuse the pun) makes interesting reading.

Before 1839 a person would pose for an artist to paint a portrait, and with the arrival of photography, the new art form, you would visit a photographer's studio and pose for a photograph. Blairgowrie and Rattray did not miss out when it came to this new art form.  A number of photographers set up in business in the town, and two of them stand out and are recognised for their contribution to the history of early photography in Perthshire.

DAVID MILNE (1821-1894)

An early photo by David Milne

David Milne was born in 1821 in St Vigeans, Forfarshire (now Angus).  In 1849 David married Ann Soutar from Craig, near Montrose, Forfarshire, and soon after their marriage and the birth of their first daughter Maria Ann Milne in 1850 they moved to Rattray where David was a Mill worker.  The 1861 Census shows the family living at Westfields of Rattray and David's occupation as Grocer.  By 1865 David Milne had taken up photography, and he set up in businesss at 16 Brown Street, Blairgowrie.  His business flourished and in 1884 he opened his Photographic Studio at 13 High Street, Blairgowrie, with a branch opening in 1886 in Airlie Street, Alyth. 

David Milne's four daughters and his son all worked in the business:  Maria Ann Milne (1850-1940) as a Photographer's Assistant; Georgina Steele Milne (1853-1933) as a Photographic Retoucher; Margarget Borrie Milne (1855-1915) as a Photographic Artist; Annie Martin Milne (1860-1939) as a Photographic Painter and Alexander Crowe Milne (1864-1937) as a Photographic Assistant.

When David Milne died on 16 June 1894 aged 72, having been a well-respected photographer in Blairgowrie for 30 years, his son Alexander took over the running of the business.


In those days photography involved the use of chemicals which could be hazardous as illustrated by a report in the Dundee Courier on 22 February 1926 under the Heading "Blairgowrie Shop Explosion".  A young Blairgowrie girl had been working alone in the back shop at the Studio when she was blown across the room.  She was severly injured and required treatment at Blairgowrie Cottage Hospital.  The glass roof and windows of the building were blown out and the large plate-glass window at the front of the shop shattered by the blast.  At this time the Studio was being rented out by the Milne family to other photographers, and Henry James Rennie, a photographer from Dufftown, Banffshire, had been the tenant from 1919.


David Wilson Laing was born on 3 March 1903 at 20 East High Street, Forfar.  His father was David Mitchell Laing, a Photographer in Forfar.  In 1927 David Wilson Laing, who was always known as Wilson Laing, became the new owner of the Studio at 15 High Street, Blairgowrie.  Wilson's brother Alexander Dalgety Laing had a photography business in Kirriemuir.  They traded as Laings Studios Forfar, Blairgowrie and Kirriemuir.

Wilson married Mary Constable in 1932 in Blairgowrie.  In 1955 their son David Constable Laing joined his father's business and the firm began trading as D. Wilson Laing & Co.

When Wilson Laing died in 1972 at the age of 69, his son David and his widow Mary Constable ran the business.  Laings finally closed on 5 July 1993 when David Constable Laing retired.

Over 65 years the Laings had photographed family portraits, weddings, christenings and other special family events, local sports clubs and various organisations, school sports teams, school dramatic performances etc. etc providing a wonderful insight into the lives of the people of Blairgowrie, Rattray and District.  They were also commissioned to document projects like the construction of the Forth and Tay Road Bridges and the Hydro Electric Schemes.

A collection of around 15000 images generated by the three generations of the Laing family between 1927 and 1993 remained in storage at the Studio until 1997 when the collection was acquired by Perth Museum and Art Gallery.  Some of the Laing images are now in possession of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments Scotland and the National Museums, Scotland.

A DVD entitled "A Long Exposure - Fascinating Photographs from the Laing Photographic Collection" was financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Rural Tayside Leader 2007-2013 Programme and may be viewed at

The book "The Early Photographers of Perthshire" by Roben Antoniewicz and Paul S. Philippou gives the history of early photography and includes some images of David Milne's work.


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