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An­thony Tooton mak­ing doc­u­men­tary film about great-grand­fa­ther, founder of Tooton’s photograph­y store

The Telegram (St. John's) - - Our Province - BY TARAMULLOW­NEY

If Tooton’s, the prov­ince’s pi­o­neer pho­to­graphic store, had sur­vived the eco­nomic down­turn of the early ’90s, it’s likely An­thony Tooton would be in­her­it­ing it.

In­stead, the film­maker is in the process of mak­ing “ Tooton’s: A His­tory of Photograph­y in New­found­land,” a doc­u­men­tary chron­i­cling the life of his great-grand­fa­ther — also named An­thony — and the im­pact his busi­ness had on the photograph­y in­dus­try in this prov­ince.

An­thony Mau­rice Tooton left Da­m­as­cus, Syria at the age of 16 in 1903, spending a year in school in Paris with the goal of im­mi­grat­ing to Montreal or New York to study medicine. On the way across the At­lantic, how­ever, Tooton suf­fered so much from sea­sick­ness that he left the ship when it docked in St. John’s, where his older brother had come about a year ear­lier.

Speak­ing no English but need­ing to make a liv­ing, Tooton, who had stud­ied photograph­y, donned a three­piece suit and went door-todoor, of­fer­ing to take peo­ple’s por­traits. While many had no money to pay for pic­tures, they in­vited him in, and he quickly made a net­work of friends and col­leagues.

Not long af­ter, he opened his own busi­ness, the Parisian Stu­dio, on Wa­ter Street, branch­ing out to a sec­ond store, the Amer­i­can Stu­dio, in 1908. Tooton had been mak­ing glass plate por­traits up to this point, but had a sense of where photograph­y was go­ing. He trav­elled to Rochester, N.Y., to meet with Ge­orge East­man, of the East­man Ko­dak Co., with the in­tent of get­ting dis­tri­bu­tion rights for film and other Ko­dak prod­ucts in New­found­land.

East­man was so im­pressed with the young en­tre­pre­neur that he granted him not only the rights, but exclusive per­mis­sion to use the Ko­dak name on his store­front and all his printed ma­te­ri­als, and Tooton be­came the first per­son in New­found­land to de­velop a roll of film.

Un­der the name Tooton’s, the Ko­dak Store, Tooton ex­panded his busi­ness fur­ther, mov­ing into what is now the Her­itage Shop on Wa­ter Street and open­ing a large film de­vel­op­ing plant on Cabot Street, where film was de­liv­ered from more than 400 drop-off points across the prov­ince.

Af­ter chang­ing the store name to Tooton’s Ltd. af­ter Con­fed­er­a­tion, the com­pany opened 11 re­tail stores in New­found­land and Labrador, and ex­tended into Nova Sco­tia.

Tooton’s son, Ray­mond, took over as pres­i­dent of the busi­ness in the late 1950s, al­though Tooton re­mained ac­tive in the com­pany un­til his death in 1971, at age 85. His grand­son, Ge­off, be­came pres­i­dent in 1979. In­dus­try pres­sure and a down­town in the econ­omy forced Tooton’s Ltd. to close in 1995. An­thony

Tooton, 31, had been im­mersed in the fam­ily busi­ness and in­ter­ested in both still and mov­ing photograph­y at a young age. While work­ing in the re­tail por­tion of the busi­ness as well as de­vel­op­ing pic­tures as a teenager, An­thony took an in­ter­est in his great-grand­fa­ther’s story and his suc­cess as an en­tre­pre­neur.

“It hit me, and I de­cided, if I ever get the op­por­tu­nity to go through the pro­vin­cial archives, I want to gather as much in­for­ma­tion as I can and tell his story,” he said. “Since then, it was al­ways in the back of my mind.”

Tooton’s in­ter­est in video pro­duc­tion was de­vel­oped af­ter work­ing with artist Peter Wilkins and sieved.com, where he edited and pro­duced dozens of videos.

Hav­ing worked on a doc­u­men­tary in Toronto and com­mit­ted to mak­ing some kind of film about his grand­fa­ther and the fam­ily busi­ness, Tooton ap­plied for a Toronto Film School en­trance schol­ar­ship, and says he was sur­prised when he won it. He en­rolled in the school’s film pro­duc­tion pro­gram, and de­vel­oped a love for doc­u­men­taries.

“I threw my­self into it. I didn’t have to force my­self to do it — it just came,” Tooton said of the pro­gram. “I’ve never done any­thing as in­tense in my life.”

In­spired by the doc­u­men­tary medium and moved by a trailer for “Body of War,” a doc­u­men­tary fol­low­ing an Iraq vet­eran par­a­lyzed from a bul­let to the spine, and fea­tur­ing orig­i­nal mu­sic by Pearl Jam front­man Ed­die Ved­der, Tooton con­tacted Ellen Spiro, the film’s di­rec­tor, who asked him to film the Toronto pre­miere.

Re­turned home

With a demo of the doc­u­men­tary in hand, Tooton moved back to St. John’s last sum­mer, and pitched it to the CBC as part of a six-part se­ries on suc­cess­ful fam­ily busi­nesses in New­found­land and Labrador. He re­ceived the go-ahead, along with fund­ing from the broad­caster and the New­found­land and Labrador Film De­vel­op­ment Corp. for the project.

“ Tooton’s: A His­tory of Photograph­y in New­found­land” will be 22 min­utes long, and is about two-thirds com­pleted, said Tooton, who’s mainly do­ing the project him­self. Com­bin­ing archived in­for­ma­tion, news­pa­per clip­pings, old fam­ily pho­tos and footage on 16-mm and 8-mm film, as well as new in­ter­views with his fa­ther, grand­fa­ther and for­mer Tooton’s em­ploy­ees, the film is set to be a mix of bi­og­ra­phy and his­tory, with a busi­ness com­po­nent and an ex­plo­ration of Tooton’s com­mit­ment to a “re­spon­si­ble mo­nop­oly.”

“An­other el­e­ment, which I think is con­sis­tent with other busi­nesses in New­found­land and Labrador, is Con­fed­er­a­tion, and how the doors to trade were open then, so the doors to com­pe­ti­tion opened, too,” the film­maker ex­plained. “It was im­por­tant to the tra­jec­tory of New­found­land busi­ness, and prob­a­bly more than peo­ple re­al­ize.”

Through the doc­u­men­tary, Tooton hopes to in­spire oth­ers in this prov­ince to ex­plore their own back­ground and fam­ily sto­ries, and give them an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the sto­ries that came be­fore them.

Above all, he said, he hopes to tell, through film — much like his great- grand­fa­ther did — a story of lo­cal suc­cess.

“He had all th­ese po­ten­tial rea­sons to leave, but didn’t. He said — and I have the same motto — that you have to look at things as op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

More in­for­ma­tion on the project is avail­able on Tooton’s web­site at www.tooton­films.ca.

— Photo by Gary Heb­bard/The Tele­gram

An­thony Tooton, 31, with some the the pic­tures and in­for­ma­tion he has used while mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary film about his grand­fa­ther, also named An­thony Tooton, who came to New­found­land from his na­tive Syria in the early 1900s.

The front page of The Evening Tele­gram of July 8, 1907 shows An­thony Tooton’s first ad­ver­tise­ment for his pho­tog­ra­phy store.

— Sub­mit­ted photo

An­thony Tooton poses for a por­trait, date un­known.

— Sub­mit­ted photo

An­thony Tooton (sit­ting on mast, with feet dan­gling) on board the ship that brought him to St. John’s in 1904.

— Sub­mit­ted photo

Tooton’s store front on Wa­ter Street in the 1950s.

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