Capturing the Faces of Ottawa

The Centretown Buzz
Wednesday March 15, 2006

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Written by Lois Siegel

©Photo by Lois Siegel
Brigitta von Dulong

For decades she has taken photos of the prominent and famous, the ministers and justices, and those who make Ottawa and the federal government work.

Brigitta von Dulong was born in 1932 in East Germany near the Baltic Sea.  When the Russians invaded at the end of  WWII, she and her parents fled to Holstein, Germany in a horse carriage.  After graduating from high school, Brigitta went to Sweden to work as an 'au pair' (nanny), and it was in Stockholm where she began her professional exploration of photography.

Artistic talents ran in the family.  Her great-grandmother and father were amateur photographers.  Her mother and three sisters were painters.  "But I couldn't paint for anything in the world," Brigitta laughs. "I started photography at 14-years-old with a small camera. "I loved it."

Brigitta found work in a lab developing black and white photos, then in two studios: one specialized in pictures of children, another focused on glamour. She also took a night course in retouching photos. Brigitta learned by watching and doing.

In 1957, she immigrated to Montreal where she worked at a studio run by George Nakash, an uncle of Yousuf Karsh.  Then she went to Winnipeg.  "One winter, that was enough," Brigitta insists. Here she learned how to shoot Jewish weddings.

Finally she settled in Ottawa where she could cycle and cross-country ski. She found a job with Tsin Van, a Chinese photographer. He had two studios and hired her to manage one on Centertown's Sparks Street. Brigitta learned about the business of photography from him and how to shoot graduation photos. After five years, she bought the studio from Van. Then she moved to Rideau Street where she spent 19 years.

In 1988, she moved to 35 O'Connor, close to Parliament and photographed many well-known personalities, including Pierre Trudeau.  "Trudeau just walked into my studio from the street," she explains. "This was in 1967, when he was Minister of Justice, before he was Prime Minister."

©Photo by Brigitta von Dulong
Pierre Trudeau

She also landed some great contracts - at Algonquin College shooting all the graduation photos and at the University of Ottawa photographing the graduating medical and law students.

"The lawyers drove me up the wall," Brigitta says. "They argued about everything."  One of the law professors said, "They're just practicing on you."

"But the doctors I photographed were good.  After they graduated, they hired me to shoot their weddings," Brigitta smiles.

One series of photos she took includes six pictures with the same family over a period of 30 years.  She took their picture every five years.  In the first photo, you see the parents with three boys who have long hair - 60s style. The next photo is a bit more sober.  When the boys married and had children; they all look very clean-cut.  Finally, the grandchildren appear. The family keeps getting larger.

©Photo by Lois Siegel

Brigitta's photographic sessions connect the generations. "It's quite touching," she says.  "It makes me feel like the family doctor… over 40 years of photographing people."

©Photo by Brigitta von Dulong

But all histories must come to an end.  Brigitta is in the process of closing Studio von Dulong. Immediate plans include "getting into digital photography and approaching publishers about a tabletop book picturing her travels. But I will miss the people. They always told me stories," she says.

She intends to continue taking photos privately.  Brigitta von Dulong can be reached at 820-1576.

LOIS SIEGEL is a filmmaker, photographer, musician, and writer who teaches Video Production at the University of Ottawa. She was chosen as one of nine photographers to shoot the Rolling Stones concert in Ottawa, 2005.

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