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ARCHIVED - William James Topley:
Reflections on a Capital Photographer

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The Studio

The Studio Experience

Nineteenth-century photographic studios were often built specifically for the purpose, rather than being converted from earlier structures. The two-storey Notman studio, which opened in 1868 across from the Parliament Buildings, measured about 9 by 16 metres. The front and side walls of the second floor were made entirely of glass windows, and there were two skylights in the roof. The studio had a reception area where the patron could see statuary, lithographs, albums, frames and other photographic novelties, as well as examples of the studio's portrait and landscape work. Many scenes of Ottawa and Canada, either as prints or on stereographic photographs, could be purchased. The patron would also see the change rooms where outdoor clothes could be exchanged for other (perhaps finer) apparel-Ottawa's unpaved streets were muddy and dirty-before a portrait was taken. The studios where the sitter was photographed would be set up in different configurations and with various props and backdrops. These rooms were located on the second floor under skylights for illumination. Dependence on natural light limited studio sessions to sunny daylight hours until, late in the century, the advent of reliable electricity provided adequate artificial light.

After he had purchased the studio from Notman, Topley completely refurbished the rooms with four new backgrounds, using stage settings instead of painted canvas. Three years later, Topley decided to build an entirely new studio, in the "grand manner." Italianate in design, three storeys high and heated by hot water, the building included not one but five reception areas, as well as darkrooms and workrooms where all preparations, developing, printing, retouching, colouring, mounting and framing were carried out.

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