These Early 1900s Collodion Images of Iceland Will Transport You To Another World

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.

Geysir, um 1900-1920
Geyser, 1900-1920.
MAO 1907
Men in costumes for the Parliament festival, 1930.
31. maí 1909
A crowd at the cornerstone ling of "Vífilsstaðaspítala", May 31, 1909.
Bakarar á Hótel Skjaldbreið í Kirkjustræti með bakkelsi, 1910-1920
Bakers with pastries at a hotel in Kirkjustraeti, 1910-1920.
MAO 50
Children playing on the ice, 1910-1915.

MAÓ 97
Workers laying out fish to dry, (ed: these appear to be cod), c. 1910.

MAÓ 2323
A train at the harbour in Reykjavik, 1913-1917.
MAO 2366
A group of men resting at a mountain lake, 1910-1920.

MAO 20
Reykjavik, ~1907
Maó 108
A horse pulling a sled of ice blocks [I think?], 1909-1916.

MAO 216
A horse and cart on a bridge over the river Elliár, c. 1910.
MAÓ 3326
Ships in port, 1917-18.
MAO 231
A sheep in front of a sod barn, 1902.
MAO 3179
Buildings in Akranes--the building in the centre was the first shop in the town, c. 1900.

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Rikardo Skorlic's picture

Here's a collection of old photographs of Makarska - Croatia. (from the early ages of photography...)

Sissi Sigurjón Arnarson's picture

The caption says: By the "elliár" river in Reykjavik

Mike Kelley's picture

Thanks Sissi - I should have picked that up, knowing that 'á' is river, and that, of course, is a picture of a river :)

Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen's picture

Elliðaár is the name

Stefan Parol's picture

Theese are great!

Magnús Hákon Axelsson Kvaran's picture
Margret Birna Betty Nielsen's picture

want be many people then

Margret Birna Betty Nielsen's picture

yeas same view less houses

meh- these all look like basic snapshots to me.  a longer lens or some speedlights would have definitely made these better.   obviously, I'm joking.  But watch, some dipshit will have something to say about these!

Borut Peterlin's picture

Ha, these are not collodion images! We Plate Collodion is super sensitive to blue and UV, so all images are have burned out sky! Also some other characteristic is revealing that these are gelatin plates and not wet plate collodion!

Christopher Hoffmann's picture

So then, the museum is lying to everyone? Or, do you think they just are incorrect in their assessment of what process was used?

I have to second Borut here - the museum are clearly wrong. It's highly unlikely that they would have used wet-plate in this capacity this late, and the clearly short exposures of most of the shots (and cloud detail) are completely out of step with the process. The museum have more than likely got it wrong and confused dry-plate for wet-plate.

Thanks for sharing these:) The photograph showing workers laying out fish, the caption reads "these appear to be Cod", just to clarify it is Cod, as only Cod was treated in this way to make Saltfish and it was always sundried. Also the river is not "Elliar" it is "Elliðaár"

or in English letters "Ellidaar" All the best

Mikael Hannes Zuntag's picture

þar er lestarstöðin?