Portraits of British Americans


Portraits of British Americans


Portraits of British Americans demonstrates some of the challenges of circulating knowledge through photographs in the mid-nineteenth century. Though these albumen prints could be mass-produced, each print had to be individually pasted onto the page in order to combine it with text in the form of an illustrated book.

This book was published by the photographer William Notman, who ran a successful photographic firm based in Montreal, with branches in several other cities in Eastern Canada and the United States. Notman was an aggressive entrepreneur, and this volume likely functioned as a promotional tool for his portraits, which made up the bulk of his business. Notman’s elegant studio, use of artistic backdrops, and innovative printing techniques drew an elite clientele, who would have been drawn to the idea of joining the ranks of eminent British Americans by having a portrait taken by the “photographer to the Queen,” a title that Notman secured in 1860. The portrait of A. C. Rankin and his brother provides an example of a particularly lavish portrait produced by Notman’s studio.  

Many of the photographs of Western Canada included in this exhibition were taken by Notman’s photographic firm, such as CPR 1887 and Photographs of the Canadian Rockies, Fraser River, Yellowstone Park, etc, and contributed to an imagined geography of Canada. With these other photographs in mind, consider what this volume and its photographs suggest about the identity of British Americans.  

A full scan of this book is available through the Internet Archive.


Fennings Taylor (author)
William Notman (photographer)


21.0 x 14.5 cm
FC 25 T228 1865


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Fennings Taylor (author) William Notman (photographer), “Portraits of British Americans,” Bruce Peel Special Collections Library Online Exhibits, accessed July 24, 2024, https://omeka.library.ualberta.ca/items/show/3154.

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