The origins of the portrait from the death mask and as coin, as currency, is to be revived with the enforced stillness of the subject by the technology of early photography. The photograph belongs, as Baudelaire noted, to the aesthetic of realism, and its illusion of ‘every degree of exactitude’. Realizing that his wish has come true, Dorian Gray reflects that This portrait would be to him the most magical of mirrors. As it had revealed to him his own body, so it would reveal to him his own soul’ (Wilde, 1989, 126). Thus, on the portrait is caricatured every sin, every thought, every desire. Photography had made the portrait available to all but the poorest, and indeed they too suffered the indignity of the camera through the growth of mechanisms of surveillance. 1

Mrs. John Smith, Ottawa, ON, Wm. Notman & Son
1889, 19th century, Collection of Lewko Hryhorijiw

According to founder of the Notman Photogrpahic Society, Lewko Hryhorijiw:

  • Notman photographed everyone – from the worker in the street to captains of industry.
  • Men, women and children were typical subjects and were captured in a Notman studio.
  • People were photographed at their best, usually dressed in their finery.
  • Extra copies of photographs were made for family and friends.

The image above and the image below are both typical of Notman prints.  The subjects are all filmed in their Sunday best.  Their children are included in the images.  Both shots were taken in a studio.

What is typical of these  Notman pictures is that all the subjects are photographed in an extremely flattering way.  The woman above is very beautiful and the man below is handsome and august.  In picture after picture of the Notman oeuvre subject after subject appear relatively lifelike and at their best.

William Macintosh, Montreal, QC, 1875, Wm. Notman 1885, Collection of Lewko Hryhorijiw

Newspaper Boy,  Montreal, QC, 1885, Wm. Notman,
1877, Collection of Lewko Hryorijiw


Why not write an analysis of any of the Notman prints you see on this site, or of any other Notman prints you may own, or know about  –  and post it here?  The  William Notman Photographic Society Site Moderator will add your text and image to the  site.

Email to notman.society@gmail.com

1. Carolyn Brown, “Figuring the Vampire: Death, Desire, and the Image,” in The Eight Technologies of Otherness ed. Sue Golding (London: Routledge, 1997), 127


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