In the days of long exposure times owing to slow emulsion speeds, there were always several people in each photograph of a large group who moved during the exposure or had an unpleasant expression or were partially hidden behind the person in front. The intention of photographers engaging in composite photographs was to alleviate these problems and at the same time offer the customers photographs more true to life.

The technical limitations of photography also made it impossible to photograph a group of three or four hundred people dressed in snowshoe costumes on Mount Royal, to supply, transport and arrange posing stands for each one, and expect to create a dynamic composition with everybody in sharp focus and looking their best. But in the controlled conditions of the studio, where each person was photographed individually with a posing stand at the head to prevent movement, a clear portrait with a pleasing expression and a good pose was guaranteed. Photographing even a small group, such as a family, indoors in a single picture was impossible. Most families wanted their own living-room or parlour as a setting for the family group, but the exposure to record the room Read More
In the days of long exposure times owing to slow emulsion speeds, there were always several people in each photograph of a large group who moved during the exposure or had an unpleasant expression or were partially hidden behind the person in front. The intention of photographers engaging in composite photographs was to alleviate these problems and at the same time offer the customers photographs more true to life.

The technical limitations of photography also made it impossible to photograph a group of three or four hundred people dressed in snowshoe costumes on Mount Royal, to supply, transport and arrange posing stands for each one, and expect to create a dynamic composition with everybody in sharp focus and looking their best. But in the controlled conditions of the studio, where each person was photographed individually with a posing stand at the head to prevent movement, a clear portrait with a pleasing expression and a good pose was guaranteed. Photographing even a small group, such as a family, indoors in a single picture was impossible. Most families wanted their own living-room or parlour as a setting for the family group, but the exposure to record the room would have been up to an hour long at least. Therefore a photograph of the room only was taken, enlarged, and the figures added later.

© McCord Museum

Mrs. Pereira

Mrs. Pereira, posed for a skating composite, Montreal, QC, 1876

William Notman
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1876
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
17.8 x 12.7 cm
II-23374.1
© McCord Museum


Duncan Bell's drawing room group

Duncan Bell's drawing room group, composite, 1870

William Notman
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1871
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
10 x 13.7 cm
I-62357.0.1
© McCord Museum


This paste-up technique had other advantages as well. It was a convenient way of including the whole family in the picture even if one or two members were not present at the time. A letter would be sent off to a brother or sister overseas, for instance, asking for a portrait of a certain size and pose. On arrival, it would be cut out and pasted into the group. Even death couldn't prevent the grandparents from being represented in the composite. A suitable head-and-shoulders portrait was copied and pasted into the composite. Nothing so macabre as including the deceased person in the group was contemplated, but rather placing the image on the wall behind the group with a frame painted around it. This was a procedure long practised by European painters.
This paste-up technique had other advantages as well. It was a convenient way of including the whole family in the picture even if one or two members were not present at the time. A letter would be sent off to a brother or sister overseas, for instance, asking for a portrait of a certain size and pose. On arrival, it would be cut out and pasted into the group. Even death couldn't prevent the grandparents from being represented in the composite. A suitable head-and-shoulders portrait was copied and pasted into the composite. Nothing so macabre as including the deceased person in the group was contemplated, but rather placing the image on the wall behind the group with a frame painted around it. This was a procedure long practised by European painters.

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

The Victorian fascination with photographs stemmed from the ability of the camera to record accurately in minute detail the subject at which it was pointed, a fascination reflected in the style photographers chose to use and in the sort of photographs the public chose to buy. They wanted their photographs to show "accuracy", "perfect definition", "naturalness" and "a good likeness". The addition of colour to composites and to studio portraits in general was another manifestation of the public's desire for realism. Notman's artists with a few deft strokes of the brush could transform a photograph from sepia tone to living colour, not by changing it into a painting, but by preserving the sense of reality imbued in a good photograph.
The Victorian fascination with photographs stemmed from the ability of the camera to record accurately in minute detail the subject at which it was pointed, a fascination reflected in the style photographers chose to use and in the sort of photographs the public chose to buy. They wanted their photographs to show "accuracy", "perfect definition", "naturalness" and "a good likeness". The addition of colour to composites and to studio portraits in general was another manifestation of the public's desire for realism. Notman's artists with a few deft strokes of the brush could transform a photograph from sepia tone to living colour, not by changing it into a painting, but by preserving the sense of reality imbued in a good photograph.

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

The earliest known Notman composite, made in 1864, is a simple thing depicting a brother and sister sitting under a spreading tree in a pastoral setting.1 This was followed by a few more of equal simplicity. But it wasn’t until 1870 with the creation of the "Skating Carnival" composite that Notman paid any serious attention to this medium. In Montreal, from April to August 1870, The Gazette carried advertisements inviting interested citizens to see the composite and the enlarged coloured version on display in his studio. The Canadian Illustrated News of May 21, 1870 featured a large Leggotype (a halftone reproduction invented by Charles Leggo) of the picture accompanied by enthusiastic comments.

Encouraged by the public reception and the brisk sales of copies of the "Skating Carnival" produced in several sizes, Notman began to include composites as part of his regular service to customers. In the next five years alone, his Montreal studio produced several dozen composites with subjects as widely diverse as the military, families, schools, actors, clergymen and sports groups including snowshoei Read More
The earliest known Notman composite, made in 1864, is a simple thing depicting a brother and sister sitting under a spreading tree in a pastoral setting.1 This was followed by a few more of equal simplicity. But it wasn’t until 1870 with the creation of the "Skating Carnival" composite that Notman paid any serious attention to this medium. In Montreal, from April to August 1870, The Gazette carried advertisements inviting interested citizens to see the composite and the enlarged coloured version on display in his studio. The Canadian Illustrated News of May 21, 1870 featured a large Leggotype (a halftone reproduction invented by Charles Leggo) of the picture accompanied by enthusiastic comments.

Encouraged by the public reception and the brisk sales of copies of the "Skating Carnival" produced in several sizes, Notman began to include composites as part of his regular service to customers. In the next five years alone, his Montreal studio produced several dozen composites with subjects as widely diverse as the military, families, schools, actors, clergymen and sports groups including snowshoeing, rowing, camping, skating, lacrosse, football and cricket. The most ambitious of these early projects was a composite made in 1875 depicting "The First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada", which included over 450 figures. From then on, composites containing 300 to 450 portraits and of greater complexity in composition and design became commonplace.
1Copy Niven’s two children, 1864, Notman number 13159-I; Willie Niven, 1864, Notman number 12322-I; Mrs. Niven and baby, 1864, Notman number 1332-I.
© The McCord Museum of Canadian History, 2005. All rights reserved.

Niven's two children

Niven's two children, 1864

William Notman
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1864
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
8 x 5 cm
I-13159.1
© McCord Museum


Yale College group

Yale College group, composite, 1872

William Notman
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1872
Silver salts on glass - Wet collodion process
20 x 25 cm
I-73955
© McCord Museum


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Notman's picture of the Carnival at the Skating Rink has attracted so much attention and become so well-known in Montreal, that it appears desirable to reproduce it in these pages for the benefit of our readers at a distance. The Leggotype copy does not of course give an adequate idea of the beauty of the original, but it serves to show the arrangement and grouping of the scene, and the variety of costumes and characters partaking in the entertainment. The original has been on view at Mr. Notman's studio for the past few weeks. It is a beautifully coloured photograph, and is exhibited in a way that sets it off to great advantage. The picture is placed in a recess draped with crimson curtains, and light is thrown upon it from above by a concealed lamp and reflector. The room, in which the picture is exhibited being dark, the effect of the brilliant colours and light is magical, and on using a powerful magnifying glass the deception is complete. The visitor has before him the scene exactly as viewed from the gallery of the Skating Rink.1
1The Canadian Illustrated News, Montreal, May 21, 1870
© The McCord Museum of Canadian History, 2005. All rights reserved.

Skating Carnival

Skating Carnival, Victoria Rink, Montreal, QC, composite, 1870

William Notman
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
1870
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
12 x 17 cm
I-46041.1
© McCord Museum


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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