Main Job: Mathematician. Hobby: Secret Street Photographer
December 28, 2017 9:16 AM   Subscribe

The eminent mathematician, Carl Stormer, had a secret hobby as a 19-year-old student. He hid an early camera in his clothes and took photos on people on the streets of Oslo in the 1890s. Supposedly, he took a shot of Henrik Ibsen but there are no identifications of the people in the photos. In his later years, he exhibited many of his photos at a show in Oslo. Here is his wikipedia page.
posted by MovableBookLady (17 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
My God, they're alive. Living, breathing people from and in the 1890s.
posted by yhbc at 9:42 AM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

There's less horsedung than I expect from the 1890's. Were the streetsweepers that good?
posted by Mogur at 10:16 AM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

When you think about it, these are some of the most incredible vintage photos you will ever see, because they were taken using modern post privacy sensibilities. I'm not choosing the right words here, but I hope I'm being clear enough to understand. It's like someone went back in time 100 years and snapped photos with Google glass. Mind blown.
posted by Beholder at 11:24 AM on December 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

Amazing. I like the hat tipping I see.
posted by dazed_one at 11:30 AM on December 28, 2017

These are great. It's fun to see the Norwegian parliament building in the back of one of the pictures.
posted by knapah at 12:18 PM on December 28, 2017

These are really neat! It's great to see people from that era without the fixed expression of posing. I really like the student in #2, her face is full of humor. Also, from the comments, #8 is one of his professors who is remonstrating him because he's figured out what he's up to!
posted by tavella at 12:41 PM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was struck by how uncrowded it was.
posted by latkes at 12:41 PM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

(Direct link to images on Norway's DigitaltMuseum)

These are a lot of fun. It's interesting how candids can really breathe life into a time that sounds like it should be so different.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 12:50 PM on December 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

Surprised he wasn't included in the 2010/11 Tate/SFMOMA/Walker Art Center exhibit "Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera Since 1870"
posted by larrybob at 1:08 PM on December 28, 2017

Here's how I should have put it, if any of us traveled back in time and secretly took photos using technology from that period, they would look exactly like those pictures. Cool in capital letters!
posted by Beholder at 2:35 PM on December 28, 2017

Cat pics have always been a thing, it seems.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:49 PM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is brilliant. Thank you for posting it. It gives such a sense of motion, and personality. I feel like it gives visuals for some of the Norwegian literature I've read. A sense of reality that portraits didn't have. It reminds me that I love modern street photography too, but for some reason I've stopped following those blogs. Now I must go and see if they still exist.
posted by liminal_shadows at 5:13 PM on December 28, 2017

So different to the starchy posed photos, I agree!
posted by freethefeet at 2:52 AM on December 29, 2017

We have quite a few late 1800s-early 1900s photos of our Norwegian family; there's a history of literature, music, needlework, weaving and knitting in the family that goes back centuries. As soon as photography came on the scene, it was added to that.

It's neat to see the difference in styles – the women in our family wore less puffier sleeves, but the blouses, ruffles and skirts are quite similar. No hats, but that would have been normal as private family photos versus public.

The smiles, though. One of the things I love about our family photos are the stories told through smiles. We have fishermen and their wives and children exchanging friendly looks and mirroring smiles; an older daughter holding a hay fork and laughing while her younger siblings jump, grinning, into piles of hay; some kids making giggly faces next to a sheep... My favorite, though, is the story told through my great-grandmother's facial expressions. She left Norway just after 1900, and she had been living in Oslo (then Kristiana) earning money for the move to Canada. The youngest of her twelve siblings, most of whom were women, probably (we theorize) meant she didn't have much to look forward to on the tiny home farm up north in Flakstad kommune. She somehow met my great-grandfather and they decided to move to Canada, passing through Oslo.

Except my great-grandfather was friends with the leader of a cult he had joined. A cult that behaved like cults do – abusively, especially towards women and children. My great-grandmother never smiled in photos taken after her wedding. Nor did her children. My grandfather was mostly deaf due to having his ears boxed by his father growing up. Then his father (my great-grandfather) died in his 60s. My great-grandmother started smiling again, reservedly.

I was up there in Lofoten to meet family in real life for the first time this summer. We've known each other for a while thanks to the intarwebs – you can add the internet to our family list of cultural hobbies, we met in the late 1990s as Norway was one of the first countries to put its national archives online, and one of my great-uncles was a regional government bigwig up in Troms fylke. I found my great-grandmother's farm that way.

While visiting my grandfather's first cousin, now 93 years old, he said that he could see my great-grandmother in me (everyone who knew her does, photos show we do have nearly the same face, I also have her first name) and remembered a photo he'd forgotten until then. He brought it out. There was my great-grandmother with a huge smile the likes I'd never seen, in a shared embrace with one of her sisters, the mother of my grandfather's cousin. It was taken in Norway in 1949.

She had come to visit her family in Lofoten after her husband died. Returning to family who were outside of the cult was strictly forbidden – and yet she did just that, on her own, as a 70-year-old woman, going from the US West Coast (they'd moved to Oregon by then) to Lofoten. It's not easy to reach Lofoten even today. So there was my great-grandmother visiting the same home I had, out by the same trees they later photographed me under, and she was smiling.

We in the States and Canada had never heard that she had visited. No idea until I saw that photo. She probably had to keep it a secret to protect others – it fits with everything my grandfather and Canadian cousins told me about her. She protected the children as much as she could, you see; everyone in the family remembered her warmly. (The same cannot be said for the man she married.)
posted by fraula at 7:34 AM on December 29, 2017 [12 favorites]

My god -- most photography was a totally different beast at that time, so I dug into the technical details of how that camera worked. An auction (not really an authoritative source, but info is scant) claims that the shutter speed could be set at/around 1/30 of a second, which required the use of the only recently invented dry plate process, which allowed for much shorter exposure times than the earlier wet plate process and didn't require a mobile darkroom.

These cameras were apparently not as obscure as they might seem; the company's ads claimed that at least 18,000 had been sold. Maybe a library or university somewhere has a digitized repository of more of these plates?

As a bonus, here's a video with some more shots not shown in the article.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 11:24 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

The circular image format really works.
posted by Mitheral at 4:08 PM on January 2, 2018

I love that the Norse Folkemuseum website, even in Norwegian, keeps the standard English headings on the page. They are so bilingual that they probably didn't really notice or something...
posted by Meatbomb at 1:23 AM on January 8, 2018

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