After Notman: A Rephotographic Survey of Montreal

Some years ago I came across the book Second View: The Rephotographic Survey Project, which records how the American West changed between the 1860s and the 1970s. This project involved a large format camera and extensive research using old photographs, and effectively refined the concept of landscape rephotography. It seemed the perfect sort of project for me, and I immediately cast around for an opportunity to do something similar. Being already familiar with turn-of-the-century Montreal photographer William Notman, I decided to visit the Notman Photographic Archives at the McCord Museum, where I spend days on end looking through hundreds of wonderful cityscapes, street scenes and interiors. Immediately I knew that I would rephotograph Notman’s images of Montreal.

From the technical viewpoint, After Notman was a demanding project. Each pair of photographs required a great deal of determination and even more luck. The first challenges were locating the site of Notman’s photographs, and determining the month and time of day they were taken by examining light and shadow. I then determined my camera Read More
After Notman: A Rephotographic Survey of Montreal

Some years ago I came across the book Second View: The Rephotographic Survey Project, which records how the American West changed between the 1860s and the 1970s. This project involved a large format camera and extensive research using old photographs, and effectively refined the concept of landscape rephotography. It seemed the perfect sort of project for me, and I immediately cast around for an opportunity to do something similar. Being already familiar with turn-of-the-century Montreal photographer William Notman, I decided to visit the Notman Photographic Archives at the McCord Museum, where I spend days on end looking through hundreds of wonderful cityscapes, street scenes and interiors. Immediately I knew that I would rephotograph Notman’s images of Montreal.

From the technical viewpoint, After Notman was a demanding project. Each pair of photographs required a great deal of determination and even more luck. The first challenges were locating the site of Notman’s photographs, and determining the month and time of day they were taken by examining light and shadow. I then determined my camera position for the shot using a method of Polaroid tests and measurements described by mark Klett, the chief photographer on the Second View project. I always set up my camera ahead of time and then watched and waited as the shadows gradually fell into place, like pieces in a puzzle. The detective work was often time-consuming, but it ensured that my lens and Notman’s were perfectly aligned.

As a photographer I have always been conscious of the fact that my work will serve in the future as a precise record of a time and place. Notman’s remarkable body of work already serves this purpose, and it seems to me that he fulfilled his mission as a documentary photographer. For this reason I considered it a privilege to work with his images, and while I followed in his footsteps, I did not tread lightly. Waiting for the sun to reach the same angle and to recast a shadow identical to one of Notman’s photographs was a mystical experience, akin to time travel. It’s my hope that this feeling will be transmitted to viewers, along with the many layers of interesting information contained within these images. Above all, I hope that my work on this project will be a starting point, helping to inspire other photographers to re-visit and re-photograph these views again in the future.

© 2002, McCord Museum of Canadian History. All Rights Reserved.

Andrzej Maciejewski

Photographer Andrzej Maciejewski, 2001

McCord Museum of Canadian History
c. 2001
© 2002, McCord Museum of Canadian History. All Rights Reserved.


When we were asked to give our point of view as historians on the thirty-four photographs by William Notman selected by Maciejewski, we found we were charmed by the work of this artist, who had succeeded in reproducing each of Notman’s images using the same composition, at the same time of the year at the same time of the day – but a century later. Maciejewski thus provides a special link with the past without giving in to nostalgia.

But what kind of past is reflected in these astonishing windows through time? The selection attests to the richest of the collection left to the McCord Museum by the Notman Studio: quality photographs, the subjects of which reveal the interests and tastes of the studio’s clientele, which were well-to-do and largely Anglo-Protestant.

After studying the images, it seems obvious to us that we possess a portrait of Montreal between 1863 and 1918 that the Notman Studio would have liked to show to relatives and foreign friends, a souvenir album of Montreal that could have brought together rich British visitors for three generations. The idea may seem surprising, but the diary of a young British visitor in the 1860s, F Read More
When we were asked to give our point of view as historians on the thirty-four photographs by William Notman selected by Maciejewski, we found we were charmed by the work of this artist, who had succeeded in reproducing each of Notman’s images using the same composition, at the same time of the year at the same time of the day – but a century later. Maciejewski thus provides a special link with the past without giving in to nostalgia.

But what kind of past is reflected in these astonishing windows through time? The selection attests to the richest of the collection left to the McCord Museum by the Notman Studio: quality photographs, the subjects of which reveal the interests and tastes of the studio’s clientele, which were well-to-do and largely Anglo-Protestant.

After studying the images, it seems obvious to us that we possess a portrait of Montreal between 1863 and 1918 that the Notman Studio would have liked to show to relatives and foreign friends, a souvenir album of Montreal that could have brought together rich British visitors for three generations. The idea may seem surprising, but the diary of a young British visitor in the 1860s, Frances Monck, confirms our hypothesis.

We have followed the route of these rich “virtual tourists.” We have wondered just as mush about what they did not experience as what they did visit. We attempted to shed light on a range of parallel historical realities – cultural, social and economic realities that were often far revoked from their route, but sometimes also very close to them. We have sampled the hundreds of thousands of photographs in the McCord Museum collections and selected images that are related to the initial photographs. Each time, there was a transition from one old daily reality to several others. And a surprising view of Montreal emerged.

Before plunging into this Montreal of the years 1863 to 1918, it might be a good idea to get to know more about Frances Monck, our guide to the 1860s. The family origins of Frances Monck and her marriage to Richard Monck connect her to the Anglo-Irish aristocracy. The elder brother of her husband, Charles Stanley Lord Monck, was Governor General of Canada from 1861 to 1868. Frances, who visited Canada twice during these years while Richard Monck held positions of the Governor General’s staff, had the advantage of exceptional access to the elite of Canadian society while travelling a great deal in Quebec and Ontario. Curious and intensely interested in the landscapes and inhabitants, Frances faithfully recorded her impressions in her letters and in her journal. It is with her that we will visit the oldest images in the series.

Enjoy your visit!

© 2002, McCord Museum of Canadian History. All Rights Reserved.

Frances Monck

“Miss Rose drove me in her pony carriage into town to see Lady Sarah, who was out. Dick met us at Notman’s and I was photo’d. After lunch, some officers came to play cricket” – Excerpt from the diary of Frances Monck, Montreal, 9 July 1864

Photograph: William Notman
McCord Museum of Canadian History
1864 07 09
Photo
© 2002, McCord Museum of Canadian History. All Rights Reserved.


Objects of all kinds and archive documents, old photographs and contemporary ones… daily life in the city revealed, years apart.

A museologist specialized in material culture examines familiar objects of daily life to understand and explain how a people, a culture, different cultures, evolve. This is what “Urban Life through Two Lenses” is about: to make the object the pivotal starting point and exploit the wide range of its meanings.

Thus, by comparing 34 photographs of urban scenes and locations from 19th century Montreal (from the Notman Studio) with as many images of the city today, taken by photographer Andrzej Maciejewski from the same viewpoints at the same time of the year and date, we explore different moments of everyday life. To each pair of images is linked a thematic capsule, opening up a window on material culture through “related” objects. Those are documented by the “Keys of History” approach, a way to learn about history by examining artifacts, the shape and function, place, time, people, and range of meaning connected to objects. Each key leads to different avenues for investigation, which – f Read More
Objects of all kinds and archive documents, old photographs and contemporary ones… daily life in the city revealed, years apart.

A museologist specialized in material culture examines familiar objects of daily life to understand and explain how a people, a culture, different cultures, evolve. This is what “Urban Life through Two Lenses” is about: to make the object the pivotal starting point and exploit the wide range of its meanings.

Thus, by comparing 34 photographs of urban scenes and locations from 19th century Montreal (from the Notman Studio) with as many images of the city today, taken by photographer Andrzej Maciejewski from the same viewpoints at the same time of the year and date, we explore different moments of everyday life. To each pair of images is linked a thematic capsule, opening up a window on material culture through “related” objects. Those are documented by the “Keys of History” approach, a way to learn about history by examining artifacts, the shape and function, place, time, people, and range of meaning connected to objects. Each key leads to different avenues for investigation, which – far from being exclusive – can be structured to define a new outlook, establish connections, broaden the scope of our knowledge.

This content is made available to you within a space devoted to virtual exhibitions and to on-line databases, with even the possibility of saving personalized folders. To this day, history museums are still considered the most reliable source of information on our collective past. Although traditionally dedicated to its passive preservation rather then to experimentation, they now play a dynamic role, fostering debate through questioning (instead of providing answers) and inviting the general public to share in the ongoing edification of knowledge.

© 2002, McCord Museum of Canadian History. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Identify the changes that were operated within Canadian society over two decades (territory, population, economy, etc.);
  • Describe in details changes that he/she is able to observe;
  • Explain and speculate about the reasons that could justify these changes;
  • Make connections between the differences and similarities of the two eras.

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