Marcus Selmer’s photographs of 19th-century Norwegians

This is gold. If you’ve got Norwegian ancestry, or just happen to be interested in what life was like in 19th century Norway, you’ll love what The Public Domain Review has posted: Marcus Selmer’s Photographs of 19th-Century Norwegians.

It is not immediately clear what drew Marcus Selmer (1819 – 1900), a Danish portrait photographer, to spend most of his life working in Norway. He trained as a pharmacist in his native Denmark, and was working in a chemist owned by his uncle when he discovered daguerreotype photography. He experimented with this new technology in his spare time and began sending his pictures in to local exhibitions. In 1852, Selmer travelled to Norway, to visit some of his uncle’s family in the city of Bergen. He never returned.

He soon found work as a photographer in Bergen and, within a year, was able to establish his own studio. This became the first permanent photographic studio in Bergen, as few photographers who visited would stay all year round. Photographers often visited Bergen in the summer, hoping to capture the fjords and mountains that surround the area, but, as they needed good light for their work, the dark and cold weather had driven most of them away by the time winter rolled around. Selmer ingeniously built his studio almost entirely out of glass, allowing enough light into the space, which enabled him to continue working throughout the year.

Selmer’s work quickly became well-known throughout Norway. He sold many books of his photographs, and sold individual images to the press and the burgeoning tourist industry, before eventually being appointed the royal photographer in 1880. Although his career was varied, Selmer is primarily remembered today for his portraits of local people in national folk costume, as shown here. These photographs depict the customs, traditions and culture of the Norwegian people, and reflect Selmer’s interest in his adopted home. One of Selmer’s most notable portraits is of a local folk hero named Ole Storviken. [continue, see photos!]

To see more of Marcus Selmer’s photos, visit these sites:

5 thoughts on “Marcus Selmer’s photographs of 19th-century Norwegians

  1. These are really fascinating. One question always arises in my mind when I look at 19th century portraits: how did they manage to wear those damn top hats? I’m sure that even walking down the street on a calm day I’d have trouble keeping one on. But they, apparently, would wear them in bad weather or when horse-riding or on a ship at sea! Is it possible that superglue was invented earlier than we think?

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