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Pictures of Longing

Photography and the Norwegian–American Migration

2018
Author:

Sigrid Lien
Translated by Barbara Sjoholm

Pictures of Longing

Haunting and revealing photographs sent home by Norwegian immigrants in America as visual document and collective expression of the emigrant experience

Sigrid Lien brings more than 250 America–photographs into focus as a moving account of Norwegian migration in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, conceived of and crafted by its photographer-authors to shape and reshape their story. Reading these photographs alongside letters from Norwegian immigrants, Lien provides the first comprehensive account of this collective photographic practice involving “the voice of the many.”

Between 1836 and 1915, in what has been called history’s largest population migration, more than 750,000 Norwegians emigrated to North America. Writing home, the newcomers sent thousands of pictures—America–photographs, as they are called in Norway. In these photographs, the emigrant experience unfolds as framed by thousands of Norwegian transplants in towns, cities, and rural communities across America.

Pictures of Longing brings more than 250 America–photographs into focus as a moving account of Norwegian migration in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, conceived of and crafted by its photographer-authors to shape and reshape their story. To clarify the historic nature and the cultural function of the America-photographs, art historian and photography scholar Sigrid Lien located thousands of the photographs in public and private archives and museums in Norway and the United States. Reading these photographs alongside letters sent home by Norwegian immigrants, Lien provides the first comprehensive account of this collective photographic practice involving “the voice of the many.”

Pictures of Longing shows, in fascinating detail, how the photographs, like the accompanying letters, contribute to the cultural grassroots expression of Norwegian migration. They steer us toward multiple, fragmented, and dispersed histories and also complement the existing fabric of established historical narratives, demonstrating photography’s potential to engage with history.

Pictures of Longing

Sigrid Lien is professor of art history and photography studies at the University of Bergen, Norway, and a leading authority on Norwegian photography. She has published extensively on modern and contemporary visual culture and is the author of the first extensive history of photography in Norway.

Barbara Sjoholm is a translator of Norwegian and Danish, as well as the author of several works of fiction and nonfiction, including Black Fox: A Life of Emilie Demant Hatt, Artist and Ethnographer.

Pictures of Longing

Preface
Introduction. “Send Us Your Portraits”: Letters and Pictures in the History of Emigration
1. The Glass Plates in the Tobacco Barn: Andrew Dahl’s Photographic Production
2. Views from Main Street: Small Town Photographers in Minnesota
3. Last Seen Alone on the Prairie: Emigration and the Unseen Female Photographers
4. Place and the Rhythm of Life: Peter J. Rosendahl’s Photographs from Spring Grove, Minnesota
5. Out of Cupboards and Drawers: America-Photography in Norwegian Rural Communities
6. Saved from Oblivion: Photography in the Chronicles of Norwegian-American Families
Conclusion. “God, How I Have Longed”: America-Photographs as Interventions
Norwegian–American Photographers, 1860–1960
Notes
Bibliography
Illustration Credits
Index