William Notman was an internationally known and respected photographer, and his photographs were widely disseminated. The many studios he established under his name, which were operated in compliance with his goals and standards by staff trained in the Montreal studio, established Notman as a creator of fine portraits and landscapes in the minds of people in the major cities of eastern Canada and New England. His customers treasured their family albums filled with Notman portraits, and each year the photographing of thousands of graduating college students was a major event on campus. Notman’s landscapes were sold not only in all his studios but also in book stores, hotels and railway stations in the eastern U.S.A. and across Canada. His photographs of all types, portraits, landscapes, architecture and composites, were in frequent demand for magazine and newspaper publication in London, New York, Philadelphia, Montreal and other centres. They were also published as posters and calendars, and as illustrations in text books, tourist guides and pictorial collections, and were produced as lantern and stereographs.
William Notman was an internationally known and respected photographer, and his photographs were widely disseminated. The many studios he established under his name, which were operated in compliance with his goals and standards by staff trained in the Montreal studio, established Notman as a creator of fine portraits and landscapes in the minds of people in the major cities of eastern Canada and New England. His customers treasured their family albums filled with Notman portraits, and each year the photographing of thousands of graduating college students was a major event on campus. Notman’s landscapes were sold not only in all his studios but also in book stores, hotels and railway stations in the eastern U.S.A. and across Canada. His photographs of all types, portraits, landscapes, architecture and composites, were in frequent demand for magazine and newspaper publication in London, New York, Philadelphia, Montreal and other centres. They were also published as posters and calendars, and as illustrations in text books, tourist guides and pictorial collections, and were produced as lantern and stereographs.

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

William Notman, photographer

William Notman, photographer, Montreal, QC, 1868

William Notman
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1868
Silver salts on glass - Wet collodion process
17 x 12 cm
I-34627
© McCord Museum


Carnival

Carnival, Montreal, QC, 1885

Wm. Notman & Son
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1885
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
25 x 20 cm
VIEW-1478
© McCord Museum


Notman sent his photographs to all the major international exhibitions in Europe and North America and to many local ones as well, where they received the highest praise from critics and top prizes from the judges. The items that attracted by far the most attention in these exhibitions, because of their uniqueness, were the composite photographs. A rarity they were in truth, for few other photographers engaged in the practice and fewer still produced composites with anything like the skill exhibited by the Notman team. Their huge size alone was enough to confirm the uniqueness of the ones Notman sent to various exhibitions.
Notman sent his photographs to all the major international exhibitions in Europe and North America and to many local ones as well, where they received the highest praise from critics and top prizes from the judges. The items that attracted by far the most attention in these exhibitions, because of their uniqueness, were the composite photographs. A rarity they were in truth, for few other photographers engaged in the practice and fewer still produced composites with anything like the skill exhibited by the Notman team. Their huge size alone was enough to confirm the uniqueness of the ones Notman sent to various exhibitions.

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

Montreal Bicycle Club, Montreal, QC, composite, 1885

From its formation in 1878, the Bicycle Club was operated on paramilitary lines. The members wore dark-blue semi-military uniforms complete with the peaked caps, and all the officers had military titles.

Wm. Notman & Son
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1942
Silver salts on film - Gelatin silver process
20 x 25 cm
VIEW-26273.0
© McCord Museum


Montreal Hunt Club, QC, composite photograph, 1886-88

The Montreal Hunt was formed in about 1826, and is the oldest such club still extant in North America. John Forsyth, a Scot who emigrated from Aberdeen in 1790, was the founder and first Master of the Hunt.

Wm. Notman & Son
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1888
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
VIEW-2228
© McCord Museum


However, other photographers were making composite photographs in Europe and a few in the States and in Canada. The Ewing Photo Company in Toronto recreated the first general assembly of the Canadian Presbyterian Church held in Knox Church in June 1870, containing a crowd of close to four hundred individuals. Jocia Bruce worked for eight years in Notman's Montreal studio and another seven at Notman & Fraser in Toronto. When he opened his own portrait studio in 1875 he made some fine composites including a very dramatic action sailboat scene which at present is part of the decor in the Toronto Yacht Club. And beginning in 1881, on the far western edge of the country in Victoria, Hannah Maynard was creating intriguing images composed of sometimes thousands of young children and babies1. These composites, like Notman's, were commercial ventures made on commission, or on speculation, as Hannah Maynard's were. But no one made composites on so grand a scale and in such great numbers and over such a long period of time as did Notman. Likewise he was the only photographer to turn composite-making into a grand commercial enterprise. By offering an exceptional product, he kne Read More
However, other photographers were making composite photographs in Europe and a few in the States and in Canada. The Ewing Photo Company in Toronto recreated the first general assembly of the Canadian Presbyterian Church held in Knox Church in June 1870, containing a crowd of close to four hundred individuals. Jocia Bruce worked for eight years in Notman's Montreal studio and another seven at Notman & Fraser in Toronto. When he opened his own portrait studio in 1875 he made some fine composites including a very dramatic action sailboat scene which at present is part of the decor in the Toronto Yacht Club. And beginning in 1881, on the far western edge of the country in Victoria, Hannah Maynard was creating intriguing images composed of sometimes thousands of young children and babies1. These composites, like Notman's, were commercial ventures made on commission, or on speculation, as Hannah Maynard's were. But no one made composites on so grand a scale and in such great numbers and over such a long period of time as did Notman. Likewise he was the only photographer to turn composite-making into a grand commercial enterprise. By offering an exceptional product, he knew he would sell at least one print to every person in a group of three or four hundred. He might sell two or three prints or even more to each sitter: one for the wall, one for the album, one for the wallet, and perhaps several cabinet-sized copies for mailing to relatives and friends. On top of that, the individual portraits of each sitter showing the studio background were available for sale.
1Claire Weissman Wilks, The Magic Box. The Eccentric Genius of Hannah Maynard (Toronto: Exile Editions Ltd., 1980).
© The McCord Museum of Canadian History, 2005. All rights reserved.

Notman was not trying to emulate or compete with painting as Rejlander and Robinson had done earlier. Nor was he using photographs as a guide to creating paintings as David Octavius Hill had done in Edinburgh. Notman's intention was to create highly saleable realistic group photographs in the only way it could be done at that time; by combining the technique of cutting and pasting photographs with the more fluid techniques of painting. And people accepted this, they knew why they were made this way, they themselves had sat in the studio with a posing stand at the back of their heads. They understood that these were photographs, and they bought them by the thousands.

Of course it is not known whether or not commerce was the primary motivation behind Notman's initial entry into the field of composite photographs. He must also have considered the publicity these astonishing productions would bring, and it was a chance for the art department to demonstrate their skills in a productive way in co-operation with the photographic staff. But it was certainly the economic opportunity inherent in the popular appeal of composite photographs that caused Notman to promote this branch Read More
Notman was not trying to emulate or compete with painting as Rejlander and Robinson had done earlier. Nor was he using photographs as a guide to creating paintings as David Octavius Hill had done in Edinburgh. Notman's intention was to create highly saleable realistic group photographs in the only way it could be done at that time; by combining the technique of cutting and pasting photographs with the more fluid techniques of painting. And people accepted this, they knew why they were made this way, they themselves had sat in the studio with a posing stand at the back of their heads. They understood that these were photographs, and they bought them by the thousands.

Of course it is not known whether or not commerce was the primary motivation behind Notman's initial entry into the field of composite photographs. He must also have considered the publicity these astonishing productions would bring, and it was a chance for the art department to demonstrate their skills in a productive way in co-operation with the photographic staff. But it was certainly the economic opportunity inherent in the popular appeal of composite photographs that caused Notman to promote this branch of his studios' output in an unprecedented manner. No matter what his motivation, Notman blended commercial appeal, artistic vision and documentary accuracy in an elegant and convincing manner, and the prints received such a wide dispersion that many of them have survived intact, bringing us important, fascinating and beautiful records of the past.

© The McCord Museum of Canadian History, 2005. 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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