We were asked @suttonarchives via Twitter this week to pick out a favourite image from the collection. It’s a hard thing to do. It must be said that among my own enduring personal favourites are those self-portraits we have of Knights-Whittome himself, often reproduced in this blog, which show a creative man, relaxed and happy in his work, with a real sense of fun. We often lament the lack of knowledge we have about this man on a personal level but these images do so much to compensate.
With digitisation ongoing however, rarely a week goes by without the unveiling of a new ‘favourite sitter’, or another name added to our personal ‘must investigate further’ lists. And this is only likely to continue as we plough on through the larger plates with their more varied appeal.
With information about our sitters thin on the ground in many cases, often all we have to go on are the visual clues that the images can offer us. Kath Shawcross, our Borough Archivist recently investigated an intriguing sitter named ‘Mr Fiddyment’, and it is this image that she offered as her own response to the Twitter enquiry. But to her disappointment, it is almost impossible to pin Mr Fiddyment down to a particular individual. Unlikely as it may seem, there was more than one man of this name in the area at the time and there is no way of determining which, if either is our man.
His charm is not only in his smile, but in the worn seams of his best jacket, the dirt under his fingernails and the pipe tie-pin he wears. Who was this working class man, and why was he having his photograph professionally taken? It is the romance behind many of these images, the fact that we cannot possibly know how a working class man such as this could justify the expense of a professional photograph, or why indeed he would want such a thing, that makes many of these images so intriguing, and so beautiful.
For me, it is the sitters who stare out of the images directly that have the biggest impact. That stop you dead in your tracks. There are many of these in the collection, few have yet been researched. In fact, I do not mind that these people remain anonymous, that we do not know their story. Of course, over time we hope to uncover details of as many of these people as we can, but for now, the imaginary lives these images conjure up are a joy to visualise, and the task of cleaning, rehousing and cataloguing each plate is made exciting through the process of uncovering visual clues, deciphering handwriting, and imagining yourself, or a relative in the shoes of the sitter .
While many sitters are composed and have been styled to fit the traditional ‘portrait’ mould. Others seem a little more discomfited, not exactly ‘uncomfortable’, but certainly not used to being the subject of such direct focus. These more natural looking shots are appealing for many reasons, though it could be just that the combination of a more direct outlook and relaxed composition make for a more modern looking image, one which we are inherently more familiar and comfortable with ourselves.
Other sitters just have a swagger and an air about them that leaves you wondering, who on earth is he?!
And then there are just the cute, the beautiful and the bizarre….
There are so many favourite images that we could share. Every time I look through Flickr, I see another detail,another face that catches my eye. I could spend all day adding images to this post. I leave you with an image that brings a smile to my face every time.
We’d love to hear which images you like the best and why? Why not take a look through our Flickr albums and drop us a line.
All images by Knights-Whittome, reproduced under Creative Commons licence CC by NC.