About Pete

About Pete

Pete Swann became fascinated by photography at the age of 11, and washed cars to earn money to buy cameras and film.  Before long his bedroom had become a darkroom and he was developing and printing black and white photos.  He kept this up for many years, but in the late 1990s made the inevitable switch to digital.  It was a big disappointment by comparison, poor image quality, and no substitute for the magic of the darkroom, the richness and texture of silver/gelatine prints.  

Digital cameras have improved immeasurably over the years, but Pete was delighted to discover, around 2017, that film was making a comeback.  Apparently many young people find digital photography just as uninspiring as he does.  Perhaps they’re also attracted by the fact that most film cameras are way cheaper, and last much longer, than their fragile digital descendants.  There’s probably one lurking in your grandpa’s shed just waiting to have new life breathed into it…

Having re-discovered film, Pete was drawn towards larger formats – 6x6cm, 6x9cm, 5×4″, 10×8″-  in pursuit of a certain quality of image, something with timeless appeal.  Large formats present a world of detail, depth and tonal richness.  Lens movements offer whole new levels of artistic control, and 10×8″ negatives make fabulous prints even without enlargement.  It’s the holy grail of analogue photography.  Even the very best digital cameras struggle to match the quality.  However, the huge scale presents some logistical challenges: you need a darkroom, and a big camera bag…

How do you get into 10×8″ with a tiny budget and no darkroom?  Build it yourself, of course,  so that’s what Pete did.  He bought a 1920s Ross Xpres lens and one film holder, and built the Camera Caerulea Magna in between (see Cameras), designing his own guillotine shutter in the process (see Shutters).  Then he built a darkroom no bigger than a wardrobe.  For the price of a basic digital SLR he was in the game…  


Pete studied industrial design in London in the mid 1990s.  From 1998-2001 he worked on industrial printing machines and factory automation systems.  Then for 13 years he worked for a charity designing special equipment for disabled children.  That included the award-winning Bugzi, an electric wheelchair for toddlers, which is still in production.  In both roles he learned workshop skills and a great deal about materials and manufacturing processes.  In 2014 he left the charity to become an artist.  See www.peteswann.co.uk to find out more about that.  In the last few years he has returned to photography, where his creative journey first began, but with the skills needed to build cameras as well as take pictures.  

The circle is complete.

What is Pete up to?

November 2023:  Pete has established www.teddingtontintype.co.uk with photographer Simon Whitehead.  Teddington Tintype is a wet plate studio based at Teddington Photographic, 17 Broad St, Teddington (SW London) shooting tintype and ambrotype portraits and still lifes, and offering workshops teaching the process.  Have a look at the new website and find us @teddingtontintype on Instagram and Facebook