Long before Photoshop existed, there was the airbrush. Patented in 1876 though not named until 1883, it allowed for the retouching of photographs. It wasn’t the only tool used for this purpose, but in skilled hands, it could make alterations look seamless. Here are five West Kootenay postcards that were doctored for one reason or another.
First, here’s a widely-reproduced Richard Trueman image of the SS Kuskanook puffing along on Kootenay Lake. There is nothing suspicious about it on this version of this card, or on most others.
But look at this version: someone has made the sternwheeler’s trail of smoke look like the tops of trees, and added more trees (enormous ones at that) on the right.
Here’s a typical view of the now-drowned town of Arrowhead on Upper Arrow Lake. Notice the mountains in the background.
Now look at this winter view. Where once there were mountains, now there is only open sea!
Nelson post office
You’ll recognize the building seen here as what is now Touchstones Nelson museum, and was formerly city hall, and before that the post office.
This Queens Studio photo is one of its most frequently reproduced images, but for whatever reason, the image is almost square. Stedman Brothers, a Brantford, Ont. postcard publisher, decided that it needed to round out the full width of a card. This was the result.
Buildings on either side have been extended, and a telephone pole on the left has been airbrushed out.
This postcard, by J. Howard Chapman, might be my all-time favourite. I’ve long puzzled over its angle. Maybe it was taken from across Kootenay Lake with a telephoto lens. Or perhaps from a balloon. Or maybe from the top of the steam derrick that was being used to construct the new courthouse in 1908 (the beginning of the work is seen in the foreground).
The image takes on a surreal, drawing-like quality because Chapman outlined the roofs and other features of the buildings with a white grease pencil, a practice I’ve seen applied to other cards, but not to such striking effect as seen here. It also depicts a number of interesting things rarely seen on postcards, including the Grand Central Hotel at bottom left, the opera house at top centre, and a gazebo in the middle of Ward Street.
I’m not sure about this one. It shows a crowd of boys (they do all seem to be boys) in front of Nelson’s Central School. It was unusual, although not unheard of, for action shots to appear on postcards. But it’s the boys in the right foreground that make me wonder. They appear to be out of scale with the ones behind them.
Of course, if they were closer to the camera, they would appear taller. And the schoolyard may have been on more of an incline at the time (today it is a level parking lot). But something still does not seem right.
The two boys on the far left with their backs to us seem to be half the size of the first boy facing the camera. But if the second group of boys really was matted on, what was the purpose? Just to make the image slightly more interesting? If another version of this photo existed, we might be able to glean some insight, but I have never seen one.