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April 3, 2024

This Book From 1908 Shows How Photo Retouching Was Around Long Before Photoshop Ever Was

“Photoshopping” portraits have been around a lot earlier! Over a century ago, photographers were already altering images to satisfy demands of customers in the Victoria era. Their retouching tools include an easel, magnifying glass, lead holder, lead, spotting brush, retouching fluid, negative varnish, and etching paste. Pencils were used to remove imperfections and blend highlights, shadows, and halftones, while etching knives were used to reduce highlights and remove photo parts.

An instructional book published in 1908 shows examples of photo retouching dating all the way back to the early 20th century. “Complete Self-instructing Library of Practical Photography” is a 10-volume collection of black and white books. It gives instructions to photographers on how to shoot, retouch, and 'eliminate imperfections’ on their subjects.

The book says, “in delivering finished work to your customers, you do not hand them the photographic negatives, but the prints made from these negatives.” And that “the early days of photography prints were made directly from the negative without any alteration.”

This is because “the wet-plate rendered softer effects than are obtainable with the ready prepared dry-plate.” Therefore, “the imperfections were less visible, and at that time the general public was satisfied with an exact likeness of themselves.”

However, when the dry-plate began replacing the wet-plate, photographs became more accurate, and “the defects in the human face became more apparent on the negative, and there arose a demand for a greater softening of the lines and a removal of the more objectionable imperfections.”

That’s when retouching became a thing! Here are some examples portrayed in the book regarding the removal of imperfections from photography subjects during the early 20th century.

This image mentions the use of “first stage, preliminary etching.”

The finished result appears much smoother. The photographer used “second stage etching and retouching.”

The original negative print alongside the retouched negative print.

The three stages of elementary retouching.

Some side view before-and-after examples of first stage retouching.

Some front view before-and-after examples of first stage retouching.

An image retouched using an etching knife.

This woman has been made to look thinner.

And an example of practical commercial etching.

The size of this woman’s neck was reduced.

This man’s crossed eyes were straightened.

And this woman’s closed eyes were “opened.”

This woman’s outfit was altered.

A child is removed from the photo.

And this woman was transformed into a statue.

A photographer using a pencil and etcher to retouch an image.


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