These Early 1900s Collodion Images of Iceland Will Transport You To Another World
Here at Fstoppers, we definitely share a lot of photos made with cutting edge techniques and the latest technology, and while this is great for making everyday things look pretty snazzy, it’s easy to overlook the historical value that photography can have. This collection of glass plate negatives by photographer Magnús Ólafsson are an amazing look at a culture that you most likely had never paid much thought to.
I’ve seen a lot of historical photographs, but this collection really had an impact on me – I find it such a treat to learn about new cultures via my (and probably our, for that matter) favorite medium. The differences between early 1900s Icelandic culture and early 1900s American and Western European culture made my jaw drop more than once in this series. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live in one of the harshest climates on earth in this time period, let alone live and work as a photographer using only bulky wet plate equipment.
Even if you aren’t interested in the historical context of these photos, I find the look and processing (if you can call it that) very interesting, something that can only be achieved using a wet plate process. Fantastic contrast and lighting throughout; some of these could easily pass as fine art photographs on a gallery wall.
These photos have been made available by the Reykjavik Museum of Photography (Ljósmyndasafn Reykjavíkur), which maintains a flickr page with an enormous collection of images from this era of Icelandic culture. For some reason I find myself just getting lost looking at these photos, which just goes to show how much power a simple documentary photo can have. Thanks to the blog ‘The Passion of Former Days’ for collecting this series of images and deciphering some of the captions.
Men in costumes for the Parliament festival, 1930.
A crowd at the cornerstone ling of “Vífilsstaðaspítala”, May 31, 1909.
Bakers with pastries at a hotel in Kirkjustraeti, 1910-1920.
Children playing on the ice, 1910-1915.
Workers laying out fish to dry, (ed: these appear to be cod), c. 1910.
A train at the harbour in Reykjavik, 1913-1917.
A group of men resting at a mountain lake, 1910-1920.
A horse pulling a sled of ice blocks [I think?], 1909-1916.
A horse and cart on a bridge over the river Elliár, c. 1910.
Ships in port, 1917-18.
A sheep in front of a sod barn, 1902.
Buildings in Akranes–the building in the centre was the first shop in the town, c. 1900.