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Photographs in the National Archives of Norway

The National Archives of Norway holds large quantities of photographs. The Regional State Archive in Stavanger has more than three million photos.

The number of images held by the National Archives in Oslo is approximately one million. The other regional state archives also keep some photographic material. The photos are part of the archives left by public authorities, private enterprises, associations and individuals. Typically, the original items are available to the public in our reading rooms.

The photos are kept together with the paper documents with which they are associated, or they may be stored separately in dedicated storage areas. This applies to negatives as well as paper copies and slides. The oldest photographs date back to approximately 1860, but most are from the 1900s. The majority is in black-and-white, and with few exceptions, all colour pictures are from the second half of the 1900s. Postcards made from photographs are archived as photographs.

Paper copies have been made from negatives in varying numbers and sizes as needed. Thus, the same photograph may exist in several copies stored in various archives.

As a general rule, photos are neither itemised nor organised according to topography or subject, as they usually belong to an archive. Hence, you must start your search in the archive catalogues. First, you must identify the authority, enterprise, society or individual that dealt with the subject you are seeking.

However, not all photographs are placed in the archives. There have been previous occasions where photographs belonging to government archives were not handed over to the National Archives of Norway, but rather donated to museums and other institutions.

The pictures are taken by amateur and professional photographers alike. The photographer's name is frequently unknown. Most of the amateur photographs are found in archives created by individuals and societies. The State Archive in Stavanger has some 20 photo archives. Besides these, there are only a few photo archives within the National Archives of Norway.

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The Indian elephant Letzie from Circus Berny. Photo: Billedbladet NÅ

The greatest part of the photographic material is found as parts of archives, either as single photographs that are enclosed with documents, or in their own boxes and albums within the archive. But we also have a few collections and archives that consist only of photographic material (ie Reichskommissariat Bildarchiv and Billedbladet NÅ (photographic magazine)).

The photos span from around 1860 and up until today. From around 1900 it became increasingly common that public authorities used photos as documentation. But also many private persons and businesses have left important and extensive photographic material. Today more than half of our photographs belong to private archives.

If no copies have been made, the public can use the original material in the reading room, provided that the photographs are organized and registered, and in proper condition. We only recently had a full time position on the photo archive, so we have a long way to go before we can make all material available.

To find and use photographs, you must use catalogues or inventory lists. They can be more or less detailed, and some photos that are spread around in the archives are often not mentioned in the catalogues.

The public can order photographic copies for use in publications etc. If used for publishing, information on which archives the photos belong to must be given. In some cases it will be limited access to the reproduction or publishing of photos because of the interest of copyright or privacy.