Anders Beer Wilse: to know Norway and its beauty from behind a camera

Posted on March 29, 2017 by Deb Nelson Gourley

Anders Beer Wilse, 1865-1949, was born in Vest-Agder and raised in Telemark, Norway. Having received his technical degree, Wilse immigrated to America in 1884 and worked as a railroad engineer and cartographer from Minnesota to Washington. He nearly drowned in 1888 on a return visit home to Norway on the emigrant ship Geyser, which collided with the Thingvalla and sank. In 1897, Wilse opened a photography business in Seattle. Expeditions in Montana included photographing Grasshopper Glacier, containing billions of entombed locusts, and the discovery of Mount Wilse. The Wilse family returned to Norway in 1900, where Anders became a world-class photographer. Wilse wrote En Emigrants Ungdomserindringer (1936) and Norsk Landskap og Norske Menn (1943). He left behind over 200,000 documented photographs of his life’s work: to study and know Norway and its beauty from behind a camera.

1949 Biography/Obituary by Wihelm Munthe

Photographer Anders Beer Wilse passed away today 20th of February 1949. He was 83.
    One of The Norwegian Tourist Association’s best friends has passed away and will be missed. His life was something of an adventure.
     Growing up in Kragerø [Telemark, Norway], Anders’ father was the Town Engineer. He grew up with fresh air and an active life on land and sea. Anders graduated from Hortens Technical School. Being unemployed he swiftly immigrated to America in 1884. Within his first year, Anders had toiled as a railroad engineer, which saw him put down new lines on the prairie and the Rocky Mountains. It was here that Anders as an early adopter of the camera, began using it to help him in the work. When he married, he settled in Seattle, [Washington] and became a “Scenic Photographer” in 1897.
     Business was thriving. At the time there were plenty of people who wanted their picture taken. It was primarily lumber jacks and gold diggers - hard workers - that sought Anders’ talents. They had their photos taken while working. Large corporations always wanted their achievements photographed. To take great pictures Anders would often set off on expeditions, he was one of the first to climb Mount Rainier (14,400 ft), Seattle. It was in Montana during one of his prospecting expeditions that he discovered the “Grasshopper Glacier” with millions of frozen insects by a mountain that was later named “Mount Wilse”.
    Over the years, Anders’ family grew and his longing home grew with it. In 1900, he uprooted for a second time so he could be back in Norway. Upon on arrival he started his company as a nature photographer. In a surprisingly short time his name became known, not only in Norway, but also in many other countries. This comes as no real surprise as Anders was never shy of hard work. In those days, tourists, ramblers and lovers of nature could never be safe in thinking Anders Wilse wouldn’t appear on top of a mountain hill, with a 10 kg camera on top of his rucksack, tripod and Kodak in hand. Anders was known for his hard work and professionalism. He could stay on location for days, come rain or shine, waiting until he got the right light for that perfect picture. Not only was he present when the fruit trees were in blossom but also on “Lofot Fishing”, a closed railroad due to a snow storm, anything thing that was worth documenting. He loved our nature and country, with all of its changing elements and seasons. His pictures taught others to love and experience the beauty of our nature, not only with grand vistas but also the closeness of nature right next to us. When the tens of thousands of people who have never even been to Norway still have a visual image of it, then Wilse has more right than any to claim the honor for it.
    As a speaker, Anders was often used here in Norway and other neighboring countries and in the USA. He himself claimed he had performed 836 slide shows - many times with no fee. One did not appeal to Wilse’s good heart in vain.
    Without doubt, our association had to use such a force. Hundreds of his pictures can be found in our annuals. He alone held 15 presentations for us. The first one he did was in 1909, the last one was a wistful remembrance in 1943: “Do you remember-”. He participated in our propaganda, worked hard for the creation of nature reserves, and laid the foundation to our own photo library. When our council was established in 1927 he was soon to be found on the board and he continued right up to 1945 until his health prevented him. In 1932, we honored him with our “Tourist Button” in gold.
    But Anders Wilse was not only a force that could be both used and be reckoned with, he was also a man you couldn't help but like. An honest man, a trustworthy friend and a glowing patriot of Norway. It was always a pleasure to meet him. Those who did not get the pleasure, will, in his two books, Life of a Young Norwegian Pioneer (1936) and Norwegian Men and their Country (1943). They will receive an unpolished view of him as a man and a lively commentary to his life's work: A national anthem in pictures.

1949 Biografi/Nekrolog av Wihelm Munthe

Fotograf Anders Beer Wilse -Døde 20.februar i år (1949) 83 år gammel.
    Med ham er en av vår forenings beste venner gått bort. Hans liv var noe av et eventyr.
    Faren var stadsingeniør i Kragerø¸ og her vokste sønnen opp i friskt friluftsliv på sjø¸ og hei. Som arbeidsløs Hortens-tekniker utvandret han i 1884 til Amerika, slet vondt det første år og kom siden til å flakke om som ingeniør ved utstikningen av jernbaner over prerien og RockyMountains. Allerede tidlig hadde han tatt fotografiapparatet til hjelp, og da han så giftet seg, brøt han overtvert og nedsatte seg i 1897 som “scenic photographer” i Seattle.
    Forettningen gikk fint, for det var nok av tømmerhuggere og gullgravere som ville bli fotografert under arbeide og av store aksjeselskaper som skulle ha bilder av naturherlighetene sine. Under en slik “prospecting expedition” i Montana var det han oppdaget “Gresshoppe-breen” med millioner frossne dyr fra et fjell som siden ble kalt Mount Wilse. Han var også en av de første bestigere av Mount Rainier (14 400 fot) ved Seattle.
    Men familien vokste og hjemlengslen med den. I 1900 brøt han for annen gang overtvert. Han vendte hjem for å skape seg en levevei som naturfotograf. På overraskende kort tid ble hans navn kjent både hjemme og ute. Men så skydde han heller ikke slit og savn. I de årene kunne fjellvandrere aldri være trygg for at ikke Anders Wilse dukket opp midt i brattlendet, svettende med et 10 kilos platekamera ovenpå ryggsekken og med stativ og kodak i hånden. Han kunne klyve opp til en utsikt dag etter dag eller ligge på lur i timesvis i styggvær for å vente på den riktige belysning. Han var ikke bare på farten når frukttrærne blomstret i Hardanger; han var også med på Lofotfiske, når Bergensbanen snedde igjen eller noe merkelig var på ferde. Han elsket vår natur i alle dens skiftninger. Hans bilder lærte andre å se skjønnheten, ikke bare i de stolte panoramaer, men også i den intime natur rett inn på oss. Når titusener av mennesker, som aldri har satt sin fot i vårt land, allikevel har et synsbilde av Norge, så har Wilse mer enn noen annen æren av det.
    Han ble også en benyttet foredragsholder, både hjemme, i nabolandene og i U.S.A. Selv mente han at han hadde holdt 836 lysbildeforedrag - ofte uten honorar. En appelerte aldri forgjeves til Wilses gode hjerte.
    Det er klart at Turistforeningen måtte utnytte en slik kraft. Hundrer av Wilse-bilder er spredt i våre års bøker og 15 foredrag har han holdt for oss. Det første var i 1909. Det siste var et vemodig tilbakeblikk i 1943: “Husker Du-”. Han deltok i vår propaganda, arbeidet for naturparker og la grunnen til vårt nåværende fotoarkiv. Da vårt råd ble opprettet i 1927, kom Wilse straks med og satt der like til 1945 da helsen ble skral. I 1932 takket vi ham med turistknappen i gull.
    Men Anders Wilse var ikke bare en kraft som kunne utnyttes, han var også et menneske man måtte bli glad i. En ærlig sjel, en trofast venn, en glødende patriot. Det var alltid en glede å møte ham. De som ikke har gjort det, vil i hans to bøker «En emigrants ungdomserindringer» (1936) og «Norske landskap» (1943) få et uretusjert portrett av ham selv og en livlig kommentar til hans livsverk: en fedrelandssang i bilder.

Anders Beer Wilse Photography: Life of a Young Norwegian Pioneer En Emigrants Ungdomserindringer, Volume 1, Astri My Astri Publishing, 2015, www.astrimyastri.com

Posted in Anders Beer Wilse, Astri My Astri Publishing, Bilingual, Deb Nelson Gourley, Emigrant, En Emigrants Ungdomserindringer, English, Immigrant, Life of a Young Norwegian Pioneer, Norway, Norwegian, Norwegian American, Photography, www.astrimyastri.com


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