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Úlfar Bragason, Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies

Photography and America Letters

  • Name: Úlfar Bragason
  • Academic credentials: Icelandic studies, medieval and modern. Research Professor, Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies

Abstract: Photographs were an important part of the America correspondence between the emigrants and their relatives and friends at home, not least portraits. In a letter of 18 February 1907 to Bárður Sigurðsson of Mývatn, North Iceland, Jón Halldórsson, who had emigrated to the US in 1872, thanked his nephew for all the landscape views Bárður had taken and sent to him. Research has been carried out recently on Bárður’s photos, which have also been exhibited. His photographs are of three kinds: portraits, landscapes, and scenes of daily life in his home region. Bárður did not sell his landscapes as postcards, but as stereographs for stereoscopes, which he produced himself. It is probable that Bárður sent his uncle such stereo views. In a stereoscope they were transformed into living 3D images, far more vivid than ordinary photos.

The archive of Bárður’s photographs includes images which are clearly those to which Jón Halldórsson referred. In the paper these landscape views, Jón’s interpretation of them, and their influence on him and his family will be discussed. Obviously, the photos intensified Jón’s nostalgia for his home region. Also they became a part of the stories he told his children about the Mývatn region. They may even have motivated their plans to visit Iceland – although that journey was never made. Eventually, the pictures helped Jón Halldórsson to make Lake Mývatn the metaphor of his life.

Theme: Border-Crossing: Migration, Travel, and Tourism