Vintage: Everyday Life of Norwegians (late 19th Century)

Vintage: Everyday Life of Norwegians (late 19th Century)


In 1886 20-year-old Ellisif R. Müller (1866-1949) married her cousin, regional doctor Andreas Wessel. The marriage led her to Kirkenes, where they lived out their lives. It was there, in her new home, that she made her debut as a photographer.

In Finnmark Wessel encountered a reality which stood in stark contrast to that of her protected bourgeois youth. She photographed what she saw: people, the buildings they lived in, and the landscape around them. Like well known documentary photographers such as Jacob A. Riis (1849-1914) and Lewis Hine (1874-1940) she uses photography to document social injustice. The motifs lead us toward what would become her life’s most important concern: the battle for human worth and dignity among workers and minorities.

The first photographs signed Ellisif Wessel are dated 1890, but she seems most active between 1895 and 1918. Most motifs are taken with a Hasselblad box camera, the Svensk Express 4B [Swedish Express 4B]. Wessel used dry plates, and we know from her personal letters that she herself developed the glass plates and copied her photographs.

A group of schoolchildren

A group of schoolchildren

Adults and children photographed in front of a house

Adults and children photographed in front of a house

Adults and children photographed in front of a large house, Boris Gleb

Adults and children photographed in front of a large house, Boris Gleb

Four men at Treriksrøysa-the border between Norway, Finland and Russia

Four men at Treriksrøysa-the border between Norway, Finland and Russia

From the bridge in the fishing village of Kiberg. Samer puts bait on liner

From the bridge in the fishing village of Kiberg. Samer puts bait on liner

Group portrait of five workers, Kirkenes

Group portrait of five workers, Kirkenes

Group portrait of men on the beach

Group portrait of men on the beach

Group portrait of school family in open air

Group portrait of school family in open air

Pechenga monastery church in winter landscape, priests on their way home

Pechenga monastery church in winter landscape, priests on their way home

People on a boat at the shore of Kirkenes

People on a boat at the shore of Kirkenes

Samer with dogs outside the tent, Sør-Varanger

Samer with dogs outside the tent, Sør-Varanger

Telegraph workers in Grense Jakobselv

Telegraph workers in Grense Jakobselv

via Preus Museum


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