The Telegram (St. John's)

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

- 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.
— 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.
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 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 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.
— Submitted photo Tooton’s store front on Water Street in the 1950s.

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