Photographer Nils Olsson Reppen was born in 1856 on the farm Reppen in Sogndal in western Norway. In 1882, he immigrated to America and worked as a photographer in Browns Valley and Morris in Minnesota.
He returned to Norway in the late 1890s and continued to work as a photographer in Sogndal, the village where he was born. Sogndal is a village beautifully situated by the Sognefjord, Norway’s longest and deepest fjord. This area is considered to be one of the most beautiful destinations in the world.
Instead of taking simple portraits in a studio like a typical photographer, Nils Olsson Reppen photographed his countrymen outdoors amid the area’s idyllic fjords, glaciers and huge mountains, using a large format stereoscopic camera.
His shoots were unusual, he posed the subjects packed at the bottom of the frame or in a far distance and then the landscape towering above them.
In 1965, part of his photo collection burned down to the ground and most of his glass plate negatives were lost. There are 424 negatives left from Reppen that document a unique blend of provincial pride and humility before a breathtaking landscape.
The pictures presented here show nature, the farms, the mountain farms, the fjords, and the villages in the Sognefjord area around the 1900s.
The center of Sogndal, Sogndalsfjøra has a long and remarkable history as a seaside settlement. It probably served as the center of the parish for centuries, with general stores and bakeries testifying to its early importance as a center of commerce and trade.
This was a community characterized by vigorous activity. There were boat landings for farmers living alongside the fjord, military functions were established here, and later on, house owners would rent rooms to the first students of the newly established folk high school. Legal assemblies were held at Hofslund, the vicar lived just nearby, and the church was located within sight at Stedje.
Sogndalsfjøra was inhabited as early as the 17th century. By 1701, the number of permanent residents had reached 60-70, mainly people who did not own property but made their living as day laborers. A century later, the population had increased to 222, and by 1900, 422 residents were registered.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the industrial base had been widened and strengthened. In 1881, there were house painters, a goldsmith, saddlers, carpenters, shoemakers, watchmakers, a tinker, and a butcher.
Ten years later, Sogndalsfjøra had its own insurance agent, a telephone operator, an ”automobile chauffeur”, a photographer, and a printer.
(Photo credit: Fylkesarkivet i Sogn og Fjordane).