People of Sogndal

Photography courtesy of Fylkesarkivet i Sogn og Fjordane


On a farm in the middle of Sogndal, Norway, a man named Nils Olsson Reppen was born in 1856. In 1882 he emigrated to the United States, chasing the American Dream like many other Norwegians did in the 19th century. Reppen developed his passion for photography, starting his career in Minnesota, but leaving in the 1890s to set up his business back in his old hometown.

Reppen wanted to do things his own way and never enjoyed shooting ordinary portraits in a studio, like the other photographers in this area. He would get his clients to join him outside in the dramatic landscapes of Sogndal, featuring the harsh mountains, glaciers and the mighty fjords. He would often use his large format stereoscopic view camera to include as much of the landscape as possible in his frames.

Tragically, almost all of Reppen's photographs were lost to a fire, just a few hundred were recovered. The ones that did tell a unique story of a proud people and their surroundings.

Composition is often a difficult thing to describe, there are golden ratios and rule of thirds and 'go closer', but more often than not great compositions just look right. Reppen challenged the traditional rules of portraiture by bringing his subjects into environments, often tucking his subjects in the corners and posing them at a distance. By using the landscape he was able to tell us more about who these people were and where they belonged. His unusual compositions has stood the test of time and created a document of the turn of the century unlike everything else we've seen.