Brodie Macpherson: Early photo printer

By Samantha Shields

Biography

Brodie Macpherson, born Archibald Brodie Macpherson, nicknamed “Handlebars” (presumably for mustache-related reasons), was a notable figure in Canada for his role in the photographic community during the rise of colour printing.

A colour portrait photograph of Brodie Macpherson in a military uniform sporting a handlebar moustache. The figure is cropped at the chest and appears against a blank background.

Self-portrait, approx. 1945 (e010767976)

Born in Toronto, Ontario, on November 26, 1909, to University Professor Walter Ernest and Elsie Margaret Macpherson, Brodie was the eldest of three children and the first to attend the University of Toronto. He enrolled in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering in 1927 and graduated in 1931. He would go on to serve as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War before returning home to start his photography business in early 1946. Macpherson’s engineering background, in conjunction with his subsequent years of experience working in the lithography business, would serve him well in the colour printing trade.

The rise of colour photography

Colour photography began to gain momentum in the mid-1930s with the advancement of colour transparencies. Colour prints were also possible at this time, but they were far less popular with photographers than black-and-white prints. The process of making and printing separation negatives was too expensive and complicated for most hobbyists, and the finished prints were rarely worth all the effort for professional photographers. Portrait and scenic photographers were certainly not interested in spending a small fortune to produce prints that critics would frequently describe as garish, vulgar, and unnatural.

Dual colour photographs of a tiered display holding Colgate and Palmolive products, such as shaving cream, shampoo, dental cream, and tooth powder. The display was photographed in-studio against a blue background.

A shop display for Colgate Palmolive toiletries. (e011312591)

Despite its many shortcomings, colour truly excelled in the realm of advertising. While bright and clashing colours can be visually jarring, they are also excellent for attracting attention. During this era, colourful photographs increasingly adorned the pages of magazines, billboards, and sales tools.

Advertising was ideally suited for colour, since much of it involved bulk orders, where repetition and quantity could distribute the high cost and complexity of making an initial print over multiple copies.

Brodie Macpherson – the business

In February 1946, rather than resume his pre-war employment with Harris Lithography, Macpherson, embarked on making and selling quantities of colour photographs using modified versions of Eastman Kodak’s Wash-off Relief and Dye Transfer processes. Given the operational similarities, a background as a lithographic camera operator proved particularly useful in this work.

Macpherson’s business approach was simple: provide the best possible product for the lowest reasonable price. This goal was achieved by

  • limiting sales to colour prints, thereby reducing the need to stock equipment and materials to process black-and-white prints, and promoting a specialization in colour.
  • selling prints in bulk only, thereby maximizing the life of the chemicals and lowering costs overall. As chemicals would begin to expire rapidly when poured into trays, it was not economical to let materials spoil between small orders.
  • experimenting and mixing his own chemicals. Macpherson was able to further streamline his printing process, maintain a consistent quality, and avoid some of the higher costs associated with purchasing prepared chemicals. These cost savings were passed on to the consumer.
  • building and customizing tools, from production equipment (e.g., cameras and lights) to printing (e.g., lightbulbs and tray rockers). Macpherson was continually designing, experimenting, and tweaking to improve and perfect the process.
  • communicating and collaborating with suppliers, manufacturers (including Kodak), fellow photographers, and printing labs, and continually sharing research, information, and resources to help improve the production of colour photography.
A black-and-white photograph of Macpherson’s camera.

Macpherson built his own one-shot colour separation camera, which allowed him to expose three plates behind different coloured filters simultaneously. Otherwise, the exact same photo would need to be taken successively for each filter colour. (e011312590)

From the outset, clients considered the quality of Macpherson’s colour prints to be strong, and his prices—while still more expensive than those of black-and-white or hand-colour photographs—reasonable. His price lists were consistently lower than those of other colour-printers in the area, and remained unchanged for the duration of the business. Over the next 18 years, Macpherson would go on to fill orders for clients from all over Canada and from the United States.

Two identical studio portraits of an unknown woman with blond hair, red lipstick, and a red knit sweater. Macpherson’s price list and contact information is superimposed on the bottom left-corner and also appears below the image.

An advertisement and price list for ordering coloured photographs from Brodie Macpherson.
(e011312588)

The colour studio, located at 172 Walmer Road, in Toronto, in the basement of his family home, operated officially until Macpherson’s retirement in 1964.

The Toronto Camera Club (TCC) – Colour Print Group

According to the President of the Toronto Camera Club, Frank E. Hessin, Macpherson was “unquestionably [the] driving force in the [Toronto Camera] Club” for the promotion of colour prints. In 1946, he proposed the creation of—and subsequently chaired—the TCC’s Colour Print Group. Over the next several years, he employed the TCC’s facilities to teach the colour separation process to anyone willing to learn.

A black-and-white photograph of Brodie Macpherson pretending to photograph a reclined Miss 1948, Lialla Raymes.

Brodie Macpherson and Miss 1948, Lialla Raymes, during a skit portraying the changing trends in photography to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Toronto Camera Club. (e011310464)

Everett Roseborough, a fellow TCC member, writes the following characterization of Macpherson, which echoes throughout the correspondence and articles in the Brodie Macpherson fonds (R791).

“Opinionated [and found] seated in the back row at photographic society meetings, stroking his moustache, he could be counted on to object to something. Following a concerted groan by those present, frequently he would be proven correct.” (Photographic Historical Society of Canada, 1994)

Ever the son of a university professor and librarian

Undeniably clever, Macpherson would readily share information and freely offer his opinion and advice. He was an invaluable resource, as photographers active during this era considered Macpherson to be the best colour photographer / printer in the city.

Over the years, as colour-photography technology continued to improve in speed and accuracy, Macpherson’s skills in this area and his knowledge of colour-print specifications continued to be recognized. He regularly shared his research findings and encouraged discussion through various photography publications, private letters, photography clubs, public lectures, and evenings in his studio accompanied by records and top-shelf scotch.

A print of a cut round cake on a black plate, situated atop a box bearing the printing matrix and creator number C363.

An early colour photograph by Brodie Macpherson demonstrating the layering of yellow, magenta, and cyan to achieve a full-colour print. (e011312589)

Retirement

Already spending most of the winter months in Barbados, Macpherson semi-retired from the printing business in 1964, at the age of 55. While he was no longer accepting any new business, during his time in Toronto, he would still fill orders of reprints from existing negatives for previous clients.

A promotional photograph displaying eight different Purity biscuit and cookie products in clear bags against a white background.

A series of promotional prints commissioned by Purity Factories Ltd., Saint John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. The company placed several orders with Macpherson, and continued to request reprints until 1970. (e011312592)

By the late 1960s, the photographic processes used by Macpherson had largely been replaced by Kodak’s new—and simpler—Ektacolor material. As a result, it became increasingly difficult to obtain the necessary supplies in Canada, and the reprinting stopped altogether.

A black-and-white photograph of Brodie Macpherson using his Devin-style one-shot camera.

Portrait of Brodie Macpherson at work. (e011310471)

A recluse by nature, Macpherson quietly closed up his home and studio sometime in the 1970s, reportedly moving to Florida without a trace (Roseborough, 1994). Subsequent efforts to locate Macpherson in Toronto, Florida, and Bermuda post-1970 were unsuccessful.

Macpherson’s successful career in colour photography, particularly during a period of rapid technological development, is a true testament to his entrepreneurial spirit, his dedication, and his mastery of the craft.


Samantha Shields is a Photo Archivist in the Social Life and Culture Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Archives as resources for revitalizing First Nations languages

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By Karyne Holmes

The preservation of First Nations languages is crucial for the survival of the unique identity of each nation and community. The ability to speak your language strengthens your connection to your ancestral heritage, community, and land and nature. In effect, language knowledge instills a strong sense of pride and confidence in your identity, and it is interconnected to mental and emotional well-being.

Since colonial contact, government policies have caused the displacement and separation of our people from their families, communities, lands and languages. Attempts at assimilation, such as the establishment of residential schools and the ongoing Millennium Scoop, have distanced multiple generations from their languages and cultures. Canada recognizes only English and French as official languages. First Nations communities have therefore taken leadership in ensuring that their languages are maintained, relearned and passed down. The decline in the natural inheritance of language through kinship has led to the rise of language-preservation and language-revitalization projects.

Fluent speakers are the most vital resources for language survival. Indigenous-led revitalization initiatives continue to innovate, to ensure communication between older and younger generations for the transmission of teachings and stories. Immersion environments such as language camps are highly rewarding, as First Nations languages have context-specific vocabularies that cannot be fully understood unless learners are engaged in performing the activities involved. Language and culture are inextricably connected, and First Nations languages are particularly tied to cultural life that is shaped by what the land provides. Programs that teach language orally through experiences rather than in a classroom align with traditional knowledge systems; they are effective because learners use language in culturally relevant situations. Instead of learning language by using translation, meaning is conveyed through context and activities.

Revitalization initiatives value both traditional and technological approaches to learning. Digital resources are also important, as they offer various supplements to land-based language learning, such as video lessons, online dictionaries and interactive games. Social media platforms like Facebook allow for online classroom communities with communication opportunities between teachers and learners that would otherwise not be possible because of distance. Language-learning apps are rising in popularity and continue to be developed to support the needs both of beginners and of students who wish to spend extra time learning independently on their own schedules.

In addition to individuals recovering their languages, communities are empowering themselves by collectively reclaiming the original-language place names of the geographic territories that they occupy. These original names give insight into the history of the area and provide knowledge about it. The names are highly descriptive, reflecting physical characteristics of bodies of water and terrain, or honouring notable events, stories and activities associated with the locations. Some names reveal ecological knowledge or communicate information about travel and navigation. These insights were gradually diminished through the imposition of settler-drawn maps that assigned and formalized their own names to locations. As part of the movement toward decolonizing spaces, the restoration of place names in First Nations languages is being done through the redrawing of maps, and through designating names in First Nations languages to traditional territories and the institutions located there.

A hand-drawn map showing a river and bodies of water, with writing indicating locations and directions. On the right of the page is a white ruler, shown for scale.

A drawing, dated 1896, of a canoe route between Lake Waswanipi and Lake Mistassini showing Cree place names (n0117726)

Archives can play a supporting role both in current language revitalization and in future language preservation. Historical research into archives can be of value to language initiatives, as researchers can find documentation of languages in several forms. Although mostly created by non-Indigenous explorers, missionaries and anthropologists, types of records that are of special interest include journals, maps and dictionaries. These may reveal what the creators of these records learned from their encounters with First Nations peoples. Of particular interest are recordings of songs and stories, as well as historical documents that may recover traditional place names and include older vocabularies with insights into the origins of and the knowledge associated with those names.

A typed page with one column listing words in English and another column listing words in Nakoda.

Transcription of a page from an English-Nakoda dictionary written between 1883 and 1886 (e011055392)

A handwritten document with one column listing words in English and another column listing words in Innu-aiman.

Page from a notebook of Innu-aimun vocabulary learned while trading, ca. 1805 (e011211380)

Archives are relevant for finding out about our past, but they can also be valuable for assisting language maintenance and protection. They can function as spaces to preserve and make accessible for future generations newly created resources that reflect the current language knowledge of fluent speakers. Archives can be either physical or digital resource centres for language learners to access a vast collection of language content. Collaborations between leaders of language-revitalization initiatives, language keepers and archivists can ensure that our grandchildren have pride and flourish in their identity, not only by speaking their original language, but also by hearing it through our ancestors’ voices.

Check back for future blogs related to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation language resources available at Library and Archives Canada.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Karyne Holmes is an archivist for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Reflections on Rwanda

By Alison Harding-Hlady

In February 2020, after four weeks of work and 33 hours of travel (thanks to a delayed flight and a missed connection), my colleague Karl-Xavier Thomas and I returned home to Canada from Africa safe and sound, full of stories and insights to share with our colleagues (and families and friends) about our assignment with the Rwanda Archives and Library Services Authority (RALSA) in Kigali. The question I am asked most often (after “How was the food?”—everyone wants to know about the food) is, What did I bring back to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) from the experience? The purpose of the assignment and my goals were pretty clearly defined (to provide four weeks of training on bibliographic description and cataloguing), and I think that all involved would agree that the objectives were met and the assignment was a success. The lasting impact of this opportunity on me and my work is a little less tangible. Of course, there are all the benefits of travel, and living and working in another place, even for a short period of time—broadening your understanding of the world, seeing new perspectives, and appreciating in a new way things that you have come to take for granted.

Professionally, I saw many other benefits as well. I really had the opportunity to improve and refine my skills in training and teaching. While I have participated in the formal and informal training of many colleagues over the years, this was the first time I had to develop a curriculum and learning plans, and spent such a concentrated amount of time delivering instructions. I learned to adapt as I went, identifying newly discovered needs and incorporating them into the plans. Patience and flexibility are always key! I also developed a new understanding of the cataloguing tools and standards that I already use every day. When you are teaching someone else how to use something, you really have to stop and take a step back, and you get a better picture of how that thing is constructed and how the different parts fit together. It was good for me to go back to basics and refresh my fundamental understanding of the tools and concepts. This will help me as I return to my “everyday” work of cataloguing.

A colour photo of people gathered in a conference room.

Delivering training on the Dewey Decimal Classification system to librarians from across Rwanda. Photo credit: LAC

Living and working in Rwanda, even for a month, was a life-changing experience for me, personally and professionally. It was a major challenge, taking me out of my comfort zone in so many ways, but it will stay with me for the rest of my life. I am proud of the work that I did, glad that LAC is an institution committed to these kinds of partnerships and the development of the library and archival professions in Canada and around the world, and so grateful to have had the chance to share my knowledge and expertise with fellow librarians in another country.

To learn more about this special assignment, and to get an overview of the training that my colleague and I gave the RALSA staff, I invite you to read my previous posts: Ready for Rwanda! and An update from Kigali!

A colour photo of a group of people gathered around a table.

Our going-away party with staff at RALSA on our last day in the office.


Alison Harding-Hlady is the Senior Cataloguing Librarian responsible for rare books and special collections in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada. Her blog articles depicting her work trip to Rwanda were written before the COVID-19 pandemic context.

 

Making Connections, Growing Collections

By Michael Kent

When I lead workshops, attendees are often fascinated to learn about the all-encompassing nature of our agency’s acquisitions mandate when it comes to Canadiana. Simply put, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) strives to have every Canadian publication intended for sale or public distribution that has ever been produced. By Canadian, we mean either published in Canada, written by a Canadian, or about Canada. We acquire items published in Canada through legal deposit, a program that requires publishers to send us copies of their publications.

Works published outside of Canada are more complicated to acquire. For one thing, we have to pursue them more actively. Often the greatest challenge is knowing they exist. This is no simple task as Canadian authors write on all topics, are published around the world, and produce in a diverse range of languages. I have discovered that one way of uncovering this information is through informal encounters.

I had one such experience recently at a conference dedicated to Yiddish literature in Canada. At the conference dinner, I started up a conversation with the woman sitting across from me and to my delight discovered I was speaking with Goldie Morgentaler. Dr. Morgentaler is a professor of literature at the University of Lethbridge and a noted translator of Yiddish literature. She is also the daughter of acclaimed Canadian Yiddish author Chava Rosenfarb, a Holocaust survivor who settled in Montreal.

Chava Rosenfarb sitting with her daughter, Goldie Morgentaler. Dr. Morgentaler is sitting on the right and has her arm over Rosenfarb’s shoulders.

Chava Rosenfarb with her daughter, Goldie Morgentaler. Photo courtesy of Goldie Morgentaler.

When our conversation shifted to my work at LAC, Dr. Morgentaler inquired about our holdings of her mother’s books. I explained we should have all of Rosenfarb’s books published in Canada that meet the legal deposit criteria. I noted that, given her mother had many books published outside of Canada, LAC could very well be missing some of those publications, since those are not subject to legal deposit. Wanting to see her mother’s works preserved as part of LAC’s collection, we agreed to follow up after the conference to see what gaps might exist in LAC’s holdings.

Through latter emails, Dr. Morgentaler and I were able to identify a few Rosenfarb works that LAC was missing. These included translations published in the United States, Poland, and Spain. Translations of Canadian authors published abroad provide important insights into the reach of Canadian culture and how Canadians are perceived abroad.

In addition to offering her mother’s works, Dr. Morgentaler proposed to give LAC some Yiddish periodicals published outside of Canada that feature Canadian authors. These included issues of Di Pen and Yiddishe Kulture. We graciously accepted. Canadian culture exists in more than just English and French. Acquiring international publications such as these, in minority languages, provides a fuller appreciation of the cultural diversity found in Canada.

When these periodicals arrived, I was excited to discover that Dr. Morgentaler had attached to each issue a sticky-note providing information about the Canadian content. These notes mention the Canadian authors, on which pages their content appears, and the city in Canada they come from. In including these notes, Dr. Morgentaler not only gifted LAC with the actual publication but also provided us with important bibliographic content.

12 periodicals laying on a table. Attached to each periodical is a post-it-note written by Dr. Morgentaler identifying Canadian content in the issue.

Some of the Yiddish periodicals donated by Dr. Morgentaler, with the attached post-it-notes containing the bibliographic information she identified for LAC. Photo credit: Michael Kent.

While I am a Judaica librarian, I am far from knowing every Jewish author. Connecting with Dr. Morgentaler allowed me to discover authors and publications I had not previously known about and bring minority language publications into our national collection. I am always thankful for people such as Dr. Morgentaler, who are knowledgeable and passionate about Canada’s history and culture. Connecting with individuals outside our organization is essential to growing LAC’s collections and the public’s knowledge about Canada.

I was honoured to connect with Dr. Morgentaler on this small project, and I look forward to my next opportunity to introduce myself to a stranger.


Michael Kent is curator of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection at Library and Archives Canada.