It’s easy to think of photographic retouching as a modern day phenomenon, but glass plate photographers working in the 19th and early 20th centuries were also masters of retouching – they used an array of tools to enhance, alter, add shadow and definition and generally idealise or improve their subjects – and moreover, this practice was expected and actively encouraged by the client. Whether this was a hangover of expectations set by an earlier generation of portrait painters who flattered and idealised their clients, or perhaps just because human nature dictates that we are never entirely happy with our true image, clients in the Edwardian period had high expectations of their photographer and his skills. Among Knights-Whittome’s plates we have few documents but we are lucky enough to have some notes and letters which document exactly the kind of retouching Knights-Whittome was being asked to produce in his studio. Here, Mr Andrews writes:
Aug 7th 1907
I am not at all pleased with the photos. Everyone who has seen them says they are very poor & I must ask you to see what you can do towards bettering them. The one X is all on one side as though the face was badly swollen & twisted. The other is the better of the two & I think can be made to look more natural by turning the nose down & not up as it now is. I am not aware that my nose turns up nor is anyone else who knows me – the head & figure stoops rather too much forward & this can easily be altered when cutting the photo for mount & I think they would look infinitely better if darker about the top of the head – Please adjust these items! Let me have the ½ dozen as soon as you can.
Yours truly R.M. Andrews
4 to one
2 to the other
Sadly the proofs attached to this letter are too faded to see properly although they do have plate numbers marked in pencil on the back so we have been able to locate the glass plates from which the prints were taken.
Though it is hard to see detail we can tell from the orientation of the head that one of the proofs is a ¾ profile and the other, X – is a front on face shot. Both plates we have for Andrews under this number are ¾ profile pictures so it seems that perhaps we are either yet to uncover the troublesome plate, or that it has been lost or numbered incorrectly.
Both Andrews’ plates that we have found show some evidence of pencil retouching to the face although this appears to have been a practice that Knights-Whittome habitually undertook on practically all of the portrait plates he made.
We do not have the final prints made for Mr Andrews, nor do we know if he was eventually satisfied but it seems that Mr Andrews was a particular client indeed. We can only hope he was eventually pleased with the final result.