When we look at composite photographs today it is in some instances with a certain amusement at what we may perceive as a naive idea, mixed with a sense of wonder at the magnitude of the project and admiration of the craftsmanship and artistry required to bring it to a successful completion. A few of the composites such as the school group of young girls sitting in stuffed chairs on the grassy slopes of Mount Royal have an almost surreal effect; in others, an occasional figure may seem to float in air, or appear just a little too small or too large.

Yet, at the time composite photographs were created, they were accepted by the enthusiastic public as factual, as true renditions of a group or an event. The previously cited article in the Canadian Illustrated News of May 21, 1870 describes with enthusiasm

In London, England in the January 17, 1870 edition of The Photographic News, the realism and artistic merit perceived in a tiny copy of the same Skating Carnival composite are extolled at greater length.

A few years later the Halifax Morning Chronicle of 1879 also stresses the accuracy of another large composite showing over four hundred and fifty p Read More
When we look at composite photographs today it is in some instances with a certain amusement at what we may perceive as a naive idea, mixed with a sense of wonder at the magnitude of the project and admiration of the craftsmanship and artistry required to bring it to a successful completion. A few of the composites such as the school group of young girls sitting in stuffed chairs on the grassy slopes of Mount Royal have an almost surreal effect; in others, an occasional figure may seem to float in air, or appear just a little too small or too large.

Yet, at the time composite photographs were created, they were accepted by the enthusiastic public as factual, as true renditions of a group or an event. The previously cited article in the Canadian Illustrated News of May 21, 1870 describes with enthusiasm

In London, England in the January 17, 1870 edition of The Photographic News, the realism and artistic merit perceived in a tiny copy of the same Skating Carnival composite are extolled at greater length.

A few years later the Halifax Morning Chronicle of 1879 also stresses the accuracy of another large composite showing over four hundred and fifty people attending the investiture of the Marquis of Lorne the previous December.

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

Montreal Snowshoe Club

Montreal Snowshoe Club on Mount Royal, composite, Montreal, QC, 1872

William Notman
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1872
Silver salts on film - Gelatin silver process
20 x 25 cm
I-73685.0
© McCord Museum


Mr. Notman also sends us perhaps the most perfectly composed group we have ever seen produced by photography....... The scene is a most animated one, consisiting of some hundreds of figures in fancy costume engaged in skating in a "rink" gaily decorated for the occasion. Of these figures nearly two hundred are perfectly made out and the featuures perfectly traceable, although the picture does not exceed nine by seven inches...... The great beauty and the great difficulty of the case is the admirable composition and grouping, so as to secure harmony, ease, and naturalness. The arrangement of men and women, and the suitable juxtaposition of costumes, the choice of position and occupation - some figures skating, some in conversation, some making salutation, some standing and looking on - but all varied and all natural; the admirable perspective, the perfect definition, and the perfect light and shade and fine relief, all tend to produce a group such as we have not before seen produced by photography...1

The Photographic News, London, January 17, 1870
Mr. Notman also sends us perhaps the most perfectly composed group we have ever seen produced by photography....... The scene is a most animated one, consisiting of some hundreds of figures in fancy costume engaged in skating in a "rink" gaily decorated for the occasion. Of these figures nearly two hundred are perfectly made out and the featuures perfectly traceable, although the picture does not exceed nine by seven inches...... The great beauty and the great difficulty of the case is the admirable composition and grouping, so as to secure harmony, ease, and naturalness. The arrangement of men and women, and the suitable juxtaposition of costumes, the choice of position and occupation - some figures skating, some in conversation, some making salutation, some standing and looking on - but all varied and all natural; the admirable perspective, the perfect definition, and the perfect light and shade and fine relief, all tend to produce a group such as we have not before seen produced by photography...1

The Photographic News, London, January 17, 1870
1The Photographic News, London, January 17, 1870
© The McCord Museum of Canadian History, 2005. All rights reserved.

After six months of labour the desired result has been obtained and the picture is now on exhibition at Mr. Notman's studio in this city. We do not exaggerate when we pronounce it the finest work of the kind ever seen here..... while in regard to the accuracy of the likenesses it challenges admiration, every familiar face being recognized at a glance. Altogether, Mr. Notman has produced a picture worthy of the historic occasion, and in the highest degree creditable to his establishment...1
After six months of labour the desired result has been obtained and the picture is now on exhibition at Mr. Notman's studio in this city. We do not exaggerate when we pronounce it the finest work of the kind ever seen here..... while in regard to the accuracy of the likenesses it challenges admiration, every familiar face being recognized at a glance. Altogether, Mr. Notman has produced a picture worthy of the historic occasion, and in the highest degree creditable to his establishment...1
1Morning Chronicle, Halifax, 1879
© The McCord Museum of Canadian History, 2005. All rights reserved.

Notman deserved the praise, for he and his staff took great pains to produce an artistic but truly representative image within the bounds of the technical limitations of photography at that time. True perspective was striven for and usually achieved. Consistent lighting of the subjects is another strong point of Notman's composites. An early composite, "The Rendez-vous" of 1872, depicts a group of snowshoers who have just completed a nocturnal tramp over Mount Royal to Lumkin's Hotel. Most of the individuals in this large group were back-lit when they were photographed in the studio, making it appear in the finished composite that the snowshoers are lit by the moon which is seen over the crest of the mountain, while the members of the group sitting around the bonfire in the foreground appear to be lit by its warm glow.
Notman deserved the praise, for he and his staff took great pains to produce an artistic but truly representative image within the bounds of the technical limitations of photography at that time. True perspective was striven for and usually achieved. Consistent lighting of the subjects is another strong point of Notman's composites. An early composite, "The Rendez-vous" of 1872, depicts a group of snowshoers who have just completed a nocturnal tramp over Mount Royal to Lumkin's Hotel. Most of the individuals in this large group were back-lit when they were photographed in the studio, making it appear in the finished composite that the snowshoers are lit by the moon which is seen over the crest of the mountain, while the members of the group sitting around the bonfire in the foreground appear to be lit by its warm glow.

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

The Bounce, Montreal Snowshoe Club

The "bounce" was the name given to an unusual rite practised by snowshoe clubs. Guests of honour, new members or winners of snowshoe races were "bounced."

Wm. Notman & Son
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1886
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
25 x 20 cm
VIEW-2425
© McCord Museum


In 1868 Notman expanded his operations to Ottawa and Toronto, establishing a studio in each city on the same lines as the one in Montreal and each managed by one of his personally trained staff. He opened a studio in Halifax in 1869 and one in St. John in 1872, and later made further expansions into New England. Notman had been photographing students and professors of schools and colleges in Montreal ever since he opened his business, and by 1869 had ventured into the lucrative American school market at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, followed closely by Harvard and Yale. Eventually he had contracts to photograph the students, campus and buildings of Dartmouth, Princeton, Lafayette, Andover, Smith, Holyoake, Trinity, Amherst as well as others.

To photograph the students, Notman set up temporary studios in one of the college buildings or erected a prefabricated studio on the campus. One of these was made entirely of wrought iron and glass. After the photographs were taken, the processed negatives were sent to Montreal where prints were made and mounted on cards or placed into albums, which were then sent to the student customers at the various colleges. This in Read More
In 1868 Notman expanded his operations to Ottawa and Toronto, establishing a studio in each city on the same lines as the one in Montreal and each managed by one of his personally trained staff. He opened a studio in Halifax in 1869 and one in St. John in 1872, and later made further expansions into New England. Notman had been photographing students and professors of schools and colleges in Montreal ever since he opened his business, and by 1869 had ventured into the lucrative American school market at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, followed closely by Harvard and Yale. Eventually he had contracts to photograph the students, campus and buildings of Dartmouth, Princeton, Lafayette, Andover, Smith, Holyoake, Trinity, Amherst as well as others.

To photograph the students, Notman set up temporary studios in one of the college buildings or erected a prefabricated studio on the campus. One of these was made entirely of wrought iron and glass. After the photographs were taken, the processed negatives were sent to Montreal where prints were made and mounted on cards or placed into albums, which were then sent to the student customers at the various colleges. This involvement in school photography led to the opening in Boston, in 1878, of Notman's first permanent studio in the U.S.A. at No. 4 Park Street. This was followed by two more in Boston; one each in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Newport, Rhode Island, and Albany, New York; and several seasonal studios in resort towns such as Poland Springs, Maine and Saratoga, New York. These American studios were incorporated under the name of the Notman Photographic Company. Through all this expansion, Notman's Montreal studio remained the centre of his business and creative endeavours. Just as the negatives for regular portraits of students in the United States were sent to Montreal for printing, so too were those for the composites from the American studios as well as from the branch studios in Canada, at least most of them for many years.

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

Albany Senate

Albany Senate, New York, composite, copied 1878

Notman & Sandham
1878
Silver salts on paper - Albumen process
17 x 12 cm
II-48802.1
© 2011, RCIP-CHIN. All Rights Reserved.


Yale College

Yale College, Sheffield Scientific School class in library, New Haven, CT, composite, 1872

William Notman
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1872
Silver salts on paper - Albumen process
35.6 x 43.2 cm
N-0000.73.13
© McCord Museum


Video - The Composite Photo, or the Art of Collage

In a composite from 1887, the subjects look quite natural; the technique used to make the photograph is not noticeable.

Dennis Reid, Chief Curator, Art Gallery of Ontario

Dennis Reid

This is called “The Bounce” because it shows the snowshoe members of the club throwing one of their members up into the air; it’s probably borrowed from First Nations. What’s fascinating about this, of course, is that he’s got the composite down so that it just looks so natural at this point. By 1887, I mean, you don’t see any of the ways that it was done at all.

But most likely, this figure who’s in the air was photographed in the studio, probably lying on a table, or lying on a box of some sort and taking his position, and then they, of course, would just cut all that out when they did the collaging. And I suspect that even this group of figures down below here were just so beautifully composed with such a play of light around and each figure so sculptural in and of itself, I suspect that those probably, too, were shot in small groups. He couldn’t have achieved that sense of plasticity, I think, otherwise. And then, of course, he’s created this very convincing background. Another great Canadian image from William Notman.

Song

Up! Up! The Morn is beaming
Through the forest breaks the sun
Rouse ye sleepers, time for dreaming
When our daily journey’s done
Bind the snow shoes
Fast with thongs to
See that all is right and sure
All is bliss to naught’s amiss to
A brave North Western Voyageur.

The Snowshoe Tramp, 1859

Notman's Canada Inc.
McCord Museum of Canadian History, PTV

© Notman's Canada Inc. 2004


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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