“…I am not aware that my nose turns up.”

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:

Great Fell
E. Molesey
Aug 7th 1907

Dear Sir,

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.

Evidence of pencil marks to the hair and face.

Knights-Whittome habitually retouched the faces of his sitters with pencil to create definition and perfect flaws.Particular attention appears to have been paid to Mr Andrews hair but there is little evidence for changes to the nose other than a little extra definition at the tip.

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.

2 thoughts on ““…I am not aware that my nose turns up.”

  1. Hi, This is a very curious area, and you may be interested in certain facts that I have discovered in my research on the Newcastle photographer Lyddell Sawyer 1856/1927. His father was a portrait painter but when photography came along he realized that his profession was in great danger and rapidly took on the new medium. Using it in a variety of ways, in the 1861 census he lists himself as a ‘portrait painter & photographic colourist’. In 1863 he advertises a ‘Life size photographic portrait’. ( which I attach here ). Whether he actually worked on the top of a photographic is questionable, but must be a combination his skill in both crafts.
    This period of transition in early photography is one that needs further research, we have to remember that hundreds of highly skilled engravers were being put out of business. Their skills cannot be over emphasised -and over night they were losing their lively hood. Many must have transferred to the new industry.

    The other question about the moustache, which I am sure you have consider is that he shaved it off and the dates on the negs are wrong.

    Lyddell Sawyer went on to become a well known member of the Linked Rink.


    • Dear Geoff,
      Thanks so much for your comment. The information on Lyddell Sawyer is very interesting and the connections you make about the dwindling engraving trade are indeed very worth considering.

      I had considered of course that the dates on the moustache plate may be wrong – either that, or he had a twin brother! – one thing we have discovered for sure is that Knights-Whittome’s dating and numbering systems are not the most reliable of sources. In this particular case we also have no instructions for retouching, nor masks/marked up plates or anything to give any indication that any ‘manipulation’ was undertaken. I’m afraid my imagination may well have run away with me on this one – but I’m still hoping it may be true!

      Thanks again for your input. Great to get feedback on our posts.


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