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Sophus Tromholt Collection

Registration year: 2013
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The collection consists of photographic prints in a portfolio and the glass negative archive by scientist and amateur photographer Sophus Tromholt (1851-1896). For the first International Polar Year in 1882-1883, teacher and self-taught astrophysicist Sophus Tromholt travelled to Finnmark in Northern Norway to monitor an aurora borealis observatory. Tromholt brought a camera and modern dry-plate glass negatives, but failed to capture the northern lights in the difficult conditions. Instead, he made around 300 images of northern landscapes, villages and the cultural customs he encountered. A main portion of the photographs are portraits depicting the people of the North: Norwegians, Kven and Sami.

Tromholt’s portraits are unique in their individualistic and humanistic approach to the indigenous population. This was a first in picturing the Sami as being more than racial stereotypes and exotic objects for tourists. Named individuals have posed for the camera in a makeshift outdoor studio and had their portrait taken, appearing as individual characters with distinct personalities. The images offer a unique perspective on Sami life in the 1880s, and the collection is an invaluable contribution to international debates around indigenous populations and their portrayal as "the other". Sophus Tromholt’s photographs are thus significant cultural, historical and political records.

The Sophus Tromholt Collection belongs to the Special Collections at the University of Bergen Library, Norway, and can be accessed through

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