A History of Photography

From 25.01.15
To 04.09.19

Gain insight into the rich history of photography! The exhibition shows how the developments in photographic processes and techniques have formed how we photograph, what we photograph, and how photography has shaped our perception of the world we live in.

From the exhibition "A History of Photography" (photo: Andreas Harvik/Preus museum)

The collection Leif Preus amassed and which the Preus museum has even more fully developed is of very high quality by international standards. It shows how the development of photographic processes and technologies has shaped how we can take pictures, what we take pictures of, and how the photograph has formed our conception of the world we live in. You'll make acquaintance with the striking processes and technologies across the history of photography that have led it from a toilsome and complicated procedure to contemporary digital images that have made everyone photographers.

The exhibition is shown in Sverre Fehn's specially designed interior and contains a separate children's area where our camera obscura is located. Here one can experience the foundational principle of all photography and feel the fascination that has led to its birth and development.

The technological development

The history of photography is relatively brief but richly complex, with many paradigm shifts.

Economics is closely linked not only with the development of photographic processes and technology, but also with the esthetic unfolding of photography.  There has been a struggle to generate ideas that make photography more inexpensive and more exact, and to give it the most extensive possible distribution. The competition between various technologies and processes that began with the invention of photography in 1839 has resulted in the profusion of easily accessible images we surround ourselves with today.

The esthetic development

Photography has not been able to rest all its weight on the history of other tendencies in the arts. Photography has attempted to discover its own esthetic language, formed by the camera's limitations and released by photography's technological development: from the first formal and stylized photographs, via Kodak's revolution and its democratic experimentation, forward to present-day pictures that can be said to mirror the entire esthetic development.


Kodak developing kit  (photo: Andreas Harvik/Preus museum)

How does photography  see the world? How does the world see photography?

As technological development made photographic processes simpler, the uses of photography broadened. The entry of photography into nearly every aspect of life has not happened without friction and discussion. From Rodchenko's Soviet propaganda of the 1930s to today's bodily ideal the theoretical distance is not especially long. Since the infancy of photography many motifs and approaches to challenges have haunted its ostensibly clear and objective rendering of reality.

What will I be seeing?

You'll get to experience stereo photography, the great-grandfather of 3D technology. The background of modern 3D lies in a discovery from almost 200 years ago. In 1838 Charles Wheatstone became the first to describe stereopsis and binocular vision, which prepared him to invent the stereoscope.

Left: The "Umbra" (photo: Helle K. Hagen/Preus museum) Right: two examples of stereo photography

Photographer unknown, The Fish Wharves, Bergen, Norway. Copyright 1900 by C. H. Graves. Property of Preus museum collections.

You'll see an account of the technological history of photography, from early optical drawing devices to current digital photography.  A separate children's area opens up the chance to play with optical principles, shadows, light and mirrors, along with the aforementioned camera obscura.

Part of the exhibition is devoted to two extremes in the history of the 35 mm camera: the simple and inexpensive camera for the masses, and the expensive high-quality camera for the professional.

  • For more than 100 years Kodak stood alone atop the amateur market in film and cameras. The company produced various versions of the Brownie camera in addition to others such as Retina, Tourist, Vest Pocket Camera, and Instamatic. With the slogan "You press the button, we do the rest" Kodak changed the relationship of people to photography. Instead of requiring specialized knowledge, photography now became accessible to almost everyone. 


Brownie 127 (2nd model), called "the albino version." Only 5000 had been produced when the white camera housing failed to sell. Kodak Ltd., 1959. Property of the Preus museum collection (photo: K. Hagen/Preus museum)


  • The slogan of the designer of the Leica camera, Oskar  Barnack, takes a different approach: "Small negative – large pictures." The camera was built around movie film split in half, which yielded 36 images on a film. The negatives were small but very sharp because of high-quality optics, so the negatives lent themselves well to enlargement.


Leica M4 given as a gift from photojournalist Arne Iversen. Property of the Preus museum collection (photo: Andreas Harvik/Preus museum)

Exhibition curator: Andreas Harvik

A History of Photography

From the exhibition "A History of Photography" (photo: Andreas Harvik/Preus museum)

Hasselblad SWC vidvinkelkamera. Tilhører Preus museums samling (foto: Andreas Harvik/Preus museum).

Leica M4 gitt i gave fra pressefotografen Arne Iversen. Tilhører Preus museums samling (foto: Andreas Harvik/Preus museum)

The Kodak Camera, Eastman dry Plate & Film Co, 1888. Tilhører Preus museums samling (foto: Helle K. Hagen/Preus museum)