Exhibition: Across the West and Toward the North

Across the West and Toward the North: Norwegian and American Landscape Photography examines a historical moment when landscapes were first surveyed, photographed, and developed on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ever since the camera was invented, photographers have strived to record and preserve landscapes as images. Technological advances towards the end of the 19th century allowed photographers to capture breathtaking views of nature in ways previously impossible.

Photographs of natural wonders have helped to shape broad ideas about national identity. The images seen here also tell more specific stories: of technical inventions, industrial development, infrastructural changes, population growth and large-scale migration. In both Norway and the US, travelers and immigrants often considered themselves discoverers of new lands, though many seemingly untouched environments – Norwegian fjords and vidde and American canyons and prairies – had been inhabited and utilized by Indigenous people for millennia.

While several early American landscape photographers were employed by private and governmental surveys, Norwegian photographers, largely, had independent commercial careers. Despite key differences in why and where the photographs were taken, a number of images from the two countries are nearly identical. These similarities suggest a global exchange of images and ideas. Both Norwegian and American photographers exhibited their work at World’s Fairs, and their images were enjoyed by armchair travelers, adventurous tourists, and homesick immigrants alike.

Today, the views are reminders of the precarious balance of nature and culture, inhabitation and exploitation, sustainability and destruction. Thus, 19th-century photographers’ approaches to their environment resonate with pivotal issues in our present day: increased global connectedness and shared concerns about climate change, loss of natural areas, resource scarcity, and mass migration. And yet, the photographs inspire wonder of the natural world — both then and now, Across the West Towards the North.