Sigfús Eymundsson 1837–1911: Icelandic Landscape Photography

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Sigfús Eymundsson (1837–1911), the most persevering and successful of nineteenth-century Icelandic photographers, cuts a colourful and even somewhat enigmatic figure. At the age of twenty, he journeyed to Denmark and Norway to study bookbinding, and later photography at Bergen in 1864-65, returning to Iceland during the summer of 1866 after almost a decade abroad. In the following autumn, he settled in Reykjavik, supporting himself as a bookbinder during the winter, as was his habit in the early days of his practice, recommencing photography at the start of summer. Reykjavik was at this time a small and unimpressive town with roughly 1900 inhabitants, half of whom still lived in turf cottages.1 Despite this very limited market, three photographers had previously tried to set up a practice there.2 Eymundsson opened his first studio in the spring of 1867 but did not become firmly entrenched until some four years later, mostly because his interests turned to other activities in the intervening period. The studio remained in operation for over 40 years until 1909, making Eymundsson the first photographer to establish himself successfully in Iceland. The National Museum of Iceland currently preserves a total of 14 600 plates and original copies from the Eymundsson collection,3 of which roughly 830 are photographs taken outside the studio. Approximately 20–25% of the latter can be classified as landscape photographs, but it seems likely that these were originally somewhat more numerous. Almost all of these plates are undated and in most cases it is impossible to tell who the actual photographer was, i.e. whether it was Eymundsson himself or one of his employees (figures 1–5).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-27
Number of pages10
JournalHistory of Photography
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1999


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