Exhibition: Across the West & Toward the North

This exhibition examines images from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a historical moment when once remote wildernesses were first surveyed, catalogued, photographed, and developed on both sides of the Atlantic.

Co-curators: Shannon Egan and Marthe Tolnes Fjellestad

 

Introduction 

Across the West and Toward the North: Norwegian and American Landscape Photography examines images from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a historical moment when once remote wildernesses were first surveyed, catalogued, photographed, and developed on both sides of the Atlantic. The exhibition demonstrates how photographers in the two countries provided new ways of seeing the effects of mapping and exploration: infrastructure changes, the exploitation of natural resources, and the influx of tourism. As tourists and immigrants entered ”new” lands – seemingly unsettled areas that had long been inhabited and utilized by Indigenous people in both countries—they “discovered” beautifully remote landscapes across the west and toward the north.

Despite a shared aesthetic interest in picturing majestic mountains, crystalline waters, and rushing waterfalls, a central difference between Norwegian and American early landscape photography is the role of private and governmental surveys. In the United States, survey expeditions facilitated mining of minerals, topographical mapping, and railway construction. Photographers hired by the surveys, such as Andrew J. Russell, Timothy O’Sullivan, and Frank Jay Haynes, made images that influenced how Americans view the nation and its landscapes and contributed to the creation of National Parks, beginning with Yellowstone in 1872. Although prospecting and construction of communications also took place in Norway, less is known about the photographic work resulting from these efforts. Instead, views produced for the tourism market by commercial photographers, such as Knud Knudsen and Axel Lindahl, influenced Norwegians’ understanding of their landscape through photography and contributed to a growing movement of Norwegian national pride.

Seen alongside each other, many views from the two countries are nearly identical, testifying to the global exchange of images and ideas taking place from the 1860s onwards. None of the pioneering photographers operated in visual vacuums. In both countries, photographers worked in competition and sometimes collaboration with each other. They responded to technical inventions and societal developments while exploring the new medium and capturing views that reflected the countries’ emerging national identities. In seeing these original photographs today, we are reminded of the precarious balance of nature and culture, inhabitation and exploitation, conservation and destruction. The exhibition urges viewers to see these past approaches to nature, travel, and technology in relation to issues in our present day: ever-increased global connectedness and shared concerns about climate change, loss of natural areas, resource scarcity, and large-scale migration. 

Sampling of Exhibition Artwork

Bridges, Roads and Railroads

Creating National Landscapes

Photographers and Equipment in the Landscape

Inhabited Landscapes

Glaciers, Geysers and Geology

Tourism and the Landscape

Where Were These Photographs Taken?

Artists

Learn More About the Artists

Lecture by co-curator Shannon Egan: