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Studio, Notman, Boston

Time Period: 
Cambridge, MA; Boston

In 1866 John Sloan Notman opened a photographic studio in Boston. He was the younger brother of William Notman, the Montreal-based overlord of an extensive kinship-based photographic empire built on collegiate portraiture. Backed by William's money and the business acumen of J.M. Gatehouse, J. Notman, Boston quickly established itself as an important diversified photographic business. Located on Tremont Street, it flourished briefly, provoked a partnership rupture, endured a move to Winter Street, then dexpired ignominiously in 1868. William Notman, meantime, poached George Warren’s lucrative relationship photographing Harvard's classes. When a change in the U.S. Postal regulations threatened the international commerce of Notman's college business in the United States, William dispatched various relations to key college cities in America. James Notman revived the Notman name in Boston in 1877. Nevertheless, William was not content to trust in James's judgment in establishing a strong base in the city, and so entered into a partnership with Thomas Campbell. William Notman and Campbell studio was located on Park Street. James Notman was at 99 Boylston.

James Notman (1849-1932) possessed a more artistic sensibility and a greater rapport with his equipment than William did. He used unexpected poses and employed the latest in electrical illumination. For this reason, most of the theatrical and celebrity work went to the Boylston Street studio, not Notman and Campbell at Park Street. In May 1881 James Notman published Scenes from Oedipus the King as Performed at Harvard. Photographed with the Electric Light by James Notman, this fourteen-image album predated by two years Benjamin Falk’s landmark photolight stage picture of Act II of "The Russian Honeymoon," generally recognized as the first still taken in a theater of a theatrical performance.

Notman opened a studio at 7 Brattle Street in Cambridge each October to take undergraduate pictures at Harvard. He scheduled sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays. He also advertised that he would take photographs of the interiors of students' rooms if so desired. When the amateur photography craze hit Harvard in 1885, Notman generously gave students the use of a room in his Bratttle Street studio for meetings. He periodically gave instruction to the 24 society members.

After James Notman’s retirement in 1894 the studio remained open under the management of Bartlett F. Kenney.

NOTES: "Photography in Boston," The Photographic Times vol 9 (1879), 42. "Read" [Beebe Dry Plate], Photographic Times, and American Photographer vol 13. Henry Norman, An Account of the Harvard Greek Play (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1882), 14-15. "Bartlett F. Kenney," Boston and Bostonians (New York: American Publishing and Engraving Company, 1894), 172. "A Society of Amateur Photographers," Outing vol 6 (1885), 247. Roger Hall, Gordon Dodds. Stanley Triggs, The World of William Notman (Boston: David R. Godine, 1993), 48-51. David S. Shields/ALS


Notman's interest in the technological state of the art in photography was sharpened by his chief camera man, George O. Quiry. Quiry's advocacy of dry plate "instantaneous process" photography (Beebe Dry Plates were the brand of choice) made them a fixture at the studio in the early 1880s.