The making of a composite photograph was a complex operation requiring the close co-operation of artists and photographers under the supervision of William Notman. The artists, in consultation with the photographers, worked out a composition even to the individual posing of some of the figures, and prepared a sketch as a guide for the photographers. To achieve the correct perspective the photographers had to compute the distance from the camera at which each individual would be photographed and the size of the negative that would be used. Figures in the foreground of a large composite might be taken on an 8 x 10 plate while middle and background figures, which must appear smaller, were taken on 5 x 7 and 4 x 5 plates respectively. If the camera distance was off by more than a foot the figure in the composite would look too big or too small.
The making of a composite photograph was a complex operation requiring the close co-operation of artists and photographers under the supervision of William Notman. The artists, in consultation with the photographers, worked out a composition even to the individual posing of some of the figures, and prepared a sketch as a guide for the photographers. To achieve the correct perspective the photographers had to compute the distance from the camera at which each individual would be photographed and the size of the negative that would be used. Figures in the foreground of a large composite might be taken on an 8 x 10 plate while middle and background figures, which must appear smaller, were taken on 5 x 7 and 4 x 5 plates respectively. If the camera distance was off by more than a foot the figure in the composite would look too big or too small.

© The McCord Museum of Canadian History, 2005. All rights reserved.

Sketch for Merchant of Venice Composite

Preliminary sketch for Merchant of Venice composite, Montreal, QC, 1872

William Notman
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1872
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
17 x 12 cm
I-71700.1
© McCord Museum


It was not only the artists and photographers who co-operated in making a composite. Once the sketch had been prepared the entire staff, which in peak years numbered as many as fifty-five, was involved and their workload increased according to the number of people included in the composite. After the sketch had been made, the next step was to make appointments with everyone who was to appear in the scene. In the case of a small family composite of ten or twelve people this was a simple task, but when dealing with a large group of three or four hundred it was formidable. For some composites, notices were placed in the newspapers or announcements made at club meetings requesting people's participation.
It was not only the artists and photographers who co-operated in making a composite. Once the sketch had been prepared the entire staff, which in peak years numbered as many as fifty-five, was involved and their workload increased according to the number of people included in the composite. After the sketch had been made, the next step was to make appointments with everyone who was to appear in the scene. In the case of a small family composite of ten or twelve people this was a simple task, but when dealing with a large group of three or four hundred it was formidable. For some composites, notices were placed in the newspapers or announcements made at club meetings requesting people's participation.

© The McCord Museum of Canadian History, 2005. All rights reserved.

Master G. MacPherson in "The Merchant of Venice"

Master MacPherson is also in the play, and the posing stand is similar to those seen in Master Prescott Esdaile's portrait.

William Notman
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1872
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
17 x 12 cm
I-71784.1
© McCord Museum


Photographers' assistants, whose duty it was to carry freshly-prepared wet plates in their light-tight plate holders to the camera room and return to the darkroom with the exposed plates for development, would have to hustle with the increased number of portraits being taken. Once developed, washed and dried, each negative had a number and the name of the sitter inscribed in the emulsion; the same information was written on the envelope, then entered in the two record books. The ladies of the printing room would be standing at the printing racks at the south-facing windows more frequently and for longer periods, eking out the last rays of the sun to print the pictures and fretting on dull and rainy days when printing times were so slow. The accountants and the staff of the mailroom were equally affected by the increased number of people visiting the studio, as were the dressing-room attendants who assisted the ladies in changing into their costumes to be worn in the photograph.
Photographers' assistants, whose duty it was to carry freshly-prepared wet plates in their light-tight plate holders to the camera room and return to the darkroom with the exposed plates for development, would have to hustle with the increased number of portraits being taken. Once developed, washed and dried, each negative had a number and the name of the sitter inscribed in the emulsion; the same information was written on the envelope, then entered in the two record books. The ladies of the printing room would be standing at the printing racks at the south-facing windows more frequently and for longer periods, eking out the last rays of the sun to print the pictures and fretting on dull and rainy days when printing times were so slow. The accountants and the staff of the mailroom were equally affected by the increased number of people visiting the studio, as were the dressing-room attendants who assisted the ladies in changing into their costumes to be worn in the photograph.

© The McCord Museum of Canadian History, 2005. All rights reserved.

Young ladies of Notman's Printing Room

This photograph shows Miss Findlay surrounded by a group of young women who worked in the printing room of the Notman photography studio.

William Notman
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1876
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
10 x 13 cm
II-24323.1
© McCord Museum


After the prints were washed and dried, they were passed on to the art department where the figures were carefully cut out with fine scissors and pasted onto a previously prepared background. For composites depicting an indoor scene such as a family group or a gymnastic team, an actual photograph of the room was usually taken. But for outdoor groups a painting was almost always made for the background, as it was easier to arrange the figures in a natural way with a believable perspective in a landscape especially prepared for the particular group. In any case, once the figures were in place, a certain amount of touching up with a sepia wash was done to achieve a better blend of figures to background. This usually entailed no more than adding a few shadows being cast by the figures, extending blades of grass to blend feet into the landscape so the figures would not appear to be floating, and adding some highlights to reflections on water or to the ice or snow in winter scenes. Indoor scenes would be similarly treated; deepening of shadows made by architectural detail, addition of shadows from figures and furniture, and placing a few highlights on chandeliers, mirrors and polished f Read More
After the prints were washed and dried, they were passed on to the art department where the figures were carefully cut out with fine scissors and pasted onto a previously prepared background. For composites depicting an indoor scene such as a family group or a gymnastic team, an actual photograph of the room was usually taken. But for outdoor groups a painting was almost always made for the background, as it was easier to arrange the figures in a natural way with a believable perspective in a landscape especially prepared for the particular group. In any case, once the figures were in place, a certain amount of touching up with a sepia wash was done to achieve a better blend of figures to background. This usually entailed no more than adding a few shadows being cast by the figures, extending blades of grass to blend feet into the landscape so the figures would not appear to be floating, and adding some highlights to reflections on water or to the ice or snow in winter scenes. Indoor scenes would be similarly treated; deepening of shadows made by architectural detail, addition of shadows from figures and furniture, and placing a few highlights on chandeliers, mirrors and polished furniture were basic techniques. At this point, though the picture was complete, the job was not yet done. The composite went back to the photographers to be copied on various size negatives, and then sent on to the framing room where it was placed under glass in an appropriate frame.

© The McCord Museum of Canadian History, 2005. All rights reserved.

Adolphe Vogt, John Fraser and Henry Sandham, Notman Staff

Three Notman photography studio employees can be seen in this picture: Adolphe Vogt, John Fraser and Henry Sandham.

William Notman
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1868
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
17 x 12 cm
I-30063.1
© McCord Museum


All this extra work paid off. The composites were tremendously popular, and created a lively interest beyond the members of the group depicted. Scenes of public events such as The Skating Carnival, Curling in Canada, or the Investiture of the Marquis of Lorne, and outings of the Montreal Snow Shoe Club were popular items and much sought-after by the general public. Pictures such as those of the snowshoe clubs had over three hundred people in them, and since each person had been photographed separately, a good likeness of each was guaranteed and therefore sales of prints, perhaps in several sizes, were assured to all in the group. Copy prints of the composite were available in several sizes to suit the pocket book and taste of each customer. These were contact prints from glass negatives of the following sizes: 4 x 5, 5 x 7, 8 x 10, 11 x 14, 14 x 17, 16 x 20 and 18 x 22. Customers generally ordered the larger sizes fully framed and placed the medium sizes in albums; the smallest, when not bought for albums, were slipped into envelopes for mailing to friends and relations to show off the dynamic and colourful activities of their city.
All this extra work paid off. The composites were tremendously popular, and created a lively interest beyond the members of the group depicted. Scenes of public events such as The Skating Carnival, Curling in Canada, or the Investiture of the Marquis of Lorne, and outings of the Montreal Snow Shoe Club were popular items and much sought-after by the general public. Pictures such as those of the snowshoe clubs had over three hundred people in them, and since each person had been photographed separately, a good likeness of each was guaranteed and therefore sales of prints, perhaps in several sizes, were assured to all in the group. Copy prints of the composite were available in several sizes to suit the pocket book and taste of each customer. These were contact prints from glass negatives of the following sizes: 4 x 5, 5 x 7, 8 x 10, 11 x 14, 14 x 17, 16 x 20 and 18 x 22. Customers generally ordered the larger sizes fully framed and placed the medium sizes in albums; the smallest, when not bought for albums, were slipped into envelopes for mailing to friends and relations to show off the dynamic and colourful activities of their city.

© The McCord Museum of Canadian History, 2005. All rights reserved.

Grand Trunk Railway Engineering Department Group

Grand Trunk Railway Engineering Department group, composite 1877

Notman & Sandham
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1877
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
27 x 35 cm
N-0000.73.19
© 2011, RCIP-CHIN. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Define the lifestyle of people in Canada before and after Confederation;
  • Identify the consequences of urbanization and industrialization on the occupied territory;
  • Explain the outline and the actors of the Confederation;
  • Explain the development of technology, brought be industrialization.

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