Andrew Pitcairn-Knowles (born Rotterdam 1871, died Hastings 1956) was a pioneering photographic journalist who published his work in the new illustrated magazines of the late 19th and early 20th century. With his eye for detail, timing and geometry, he accurately captured the leisure activities, sports and customs of the period. Besides their documentary value, his photographs have a quirky and almost surreal quality.
From the turn of the century Pitcairn-Knowles travelled around Europe as a photo-journalist, living in Berlin, Brussels, Paris and Jersey. At this time the production of photographic illustrated magazines expanded due to improvements in half-tone printing techniques two decades earlier. Pitcairn-Knowles published his articles and photos in a range of different types of illustrated magazines, including World Wide Magazine, a travel magazine which made the exotic and foreign accessible to the British public, Die Woche (The Week), a German weekly family magazine, and the French literary magazine Lectures Pour Tous (Reading For All).
A keen sportsman, Pitcairn-Knowles launched his own magazine Sport im Bild (Sports Illustrated) in 1895. During this period, sports photography began to become established as a genre; a result of the above mentioned expansion of the illustrated press, the rise of mass sport, and technological improvements in photography (such as a faster shutter speed). We would not call Pitcairn-Knowles a sports photographer though: he was as interested in the goings-on around the track as in the sports themselves.
At the seaside resort of Ostend, Belgium, Pitcairn-Knowles combined his passion for sports and games with his interest in people and their customs. He returned several times and recorded the motor races, dog races, shrimpers, and children riding sand yachts. His photographs display his charming and graceful view of leisure time in the Edwardian period.
In 1911 Pitcairn-Knowles moved to England and opened ‘Riposo’ (Italian for ‘rest’ or ‘repose’), a health resort in Sussex. Photography continued to play an important role in his life: he documented treatments, produced educational material and traced the history and methods of the ‘Schroth’ cure, a treatment he promoted. This cure, invented by Johann Schroth around 1817, was based on the idea that most illnesses result from the accumulation of toxins in the body. Patients were packed in wet sheets and prescribed to drink very little and eat four meals a week, with stale bread in addition.
Pitcairn-Knowles made gelatin-silver prints from gelatin dry plate glass negatives. These negatives, invented by the English physician Richard Leach Maddox in 1871, were more convenient to use and more sensitive to light than the earlier wet collodion plates. Pitcairn-Knowles usually worked with the smallest negative used by professionals: the half-plate format (43/4x 61/2 inches) and made prints by bringing the negative into direct contact with the printing paper. Although the dry plate negatives were relatively easy to use, the half-plate cameras which Pitcairn-Knowles used were quite heavy.
The Victorian and Albert (V&A) is the only museum that has vintage prints by Pitcairn-Knowles in its collection. It holds almost 350 vintage prints and more than 40 prints of later date. In addition, the V&A acquired the archive of Pitcairn-Knowles which includes almost 900 glass negatives, over 150 lantern slides, family papers, photographs and correspondence. The archive also contains papers relating to Pitcairn-Knowles’ health resort and various magazines in which his articles and photographic reports were published.
This text was originally written to accompany the exhibition “The Edwardian Eye of Andrew Pitcairn-Knowles”, on display at the V&A South Kensington between 18 May and 16 July 2006.
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