Seattle Photographic Company

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Anders Beer Wilse came to America as part of the largest wave of Norwegian immigration. During the 1880s, ten out of every thousand inhabitants left Norway annually in search of new land and economic opportunity. Wilse had a degree in engineering and found employment with Minneapolis railroad companies surveying for new lines in the Midwest.

Wilse's experience was typical of all immigrants in that he was forced to move from place to place as his job changed frequently. He arrived in Seattle in 1890, where he was hired by the Great Northern Railroad to survey the crossing of the Cascade Mountains. Wilse's earliest known Pacific Northwest photographs are from this period, documenting the construction of the Great Northern line across the Cascade Mountains in 1892-93. Wilse moved to British Columbia when much new construction came to a halt in the Panic of 1893, but returned to Seattle in 1896 to work as a cartographer. In 1897, he began work as a tax assessor for King County; it was this experience that drove him to his career in commercial photography. "I saw numbers in the streets and talked numbers in my sleep," wrote Wilse. "I decided I could not take it anymore. I quit my job. [...]Two days after I quit my work as an engineer I became a scenic photographer." Wilse first joined in partnership with established photographer Daniel W. Kirk, running the Seattle office and developing and printing the images taken by the traveling Kirk. Frustrated by this division of labor, after six months Wilse bought the business from Kirk.

Wilse's decision to change careers in 1897 was a fortuitous one. In July, the news that gold had been discovered in the Klondike region reached Seattle. The photographer found a steady market for his images of departing steamships, streets crowded with merchants selling supplies, and dog teams being trained for work in the north. The years that followed the initial rush of gold seekers provided more subjects for the photographer, as Wilse recorded the building of the city's water system, the street car lines, fire departments, schools, parks and recreational facilities. His pictures appeared frequently in publications promoting the region as beautiful and full of growth and opportunity.

Landscapes are another important facet of Wilse's work. Like the Romantic painters, Wilse focused on what he saw as a harmonious relationship between human subjects and the natural world. Wilse work was also guided by the philosophy that cities should be built so that their residents could commune with the natural environment, as evidenced in his photographs of campers and cyclists along Lake Washington and of Seattle's parks and beaches. Wilse's recurring interest in documenting the way of life of a variety of peoples is exemplified by his images of Native Americans. In 1900, he visited Neah Bay, Washington and took numerous pictures of the Makah and their cedar dugout canoes.

By 1900, Wilse listed his business as the Seattle Photographic Company. That same year, Wilse traveled to Norway to join his wife, leaving the business in the hands of his assistants, fully intending to return the following year. Once in the homeland, however, his wife refused to leave again. The Seattle Photographic Company continued to do business under the management of one of Wilse's assistants until it closed in 1913.

In May 1901, Wilse opened a photography studio in Oslo. Wilse began his career in Norway by linking himself with the country's growing tourist industry, photographing foreigners touring Norway by steamship. He also traveled throughout the countryside, to remote villages and up mountain peaks, covering in greater breadth the variety to be found in the Norwegian people and landscape. In 1905, the nation of Norway was born when it achieved final separation from Sweden. The desire to establish a strong national identity supported Wilse's career. Artists tried to express those aspects of life they considered notably Norwegian. Wilse's subjects became icons of the Norwegian visual culture.

(Biographical background adapted from the gallery guide for the exhibit "En Norsk Fotograf: Anders Beer Wilse in the Pacific Northwest and Norway, " written by Carolyn Marr, Museum of History & Industry)

From the guide to the Anders Beer Wilse Photographs, 1892-1913, (Museum of History & Industry Sophie Frye Bass Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Michael Cirelli collection on Northwest photography, 1865-2000, 1890s-1910s Museum of History & Industry Sophie Frye Bass Library
creatorOf Anders Beer Wilse Photographs, 1892-1913 Museum of History & Industry Sophie Frye Bass Library
creatorOf Wilse, Anders Beer, 1865-1949. Anders Beer Wilse photographs, 1892-1913. Museum of History and Industry
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Cirelli, Michael, 1944-2002 person
associatedWith Frank La Roche person
associatedWith George Braas person
associatedWith John N. Cobb person
associatedWith Wilse, Anders Beer, 1865-1949. person
associatedWith Wilse and Kirk corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Seattle (Wash.)
Bremerton (Wash.)
Index (Wash.)
Neah Bay (Wash.)
Woodland Park (Seattle, Wash)
Rainier, Mount (Wash.)
Dugout canoes
Fire stations
Indian baskets
Indians of North America
Makah Indians
Mining camps
Native Americans
Parks and Playgrounds
Seattle (Wash.)
Universities & colleges
Business districts

Corporate Body

Active 1892

Active 1913



Ark ID: w6bw2w7j

SNAC ID: 25549533