Sisters by Ellen Björklund

This late cabinet card (1900-1915) came to me from Finland.  The only information on it is a stamp on the front with the name Ellen Björklund:

Sisters by Ellen Björklund 3

 

I haven’t found any information about Ellen Björklund online, or even another photo by her, which is surprising.  I wondered if her studio might have been in Sweden, so I searched a large Swedish database, Rötter, but found nothing under that name.  (Rötter, meaning Roots, is a fantastic website for research, with thousands of photos contributed by users.)

Swedish women worked very successfully as commercial photographers in the 19th and early 20th centuries.*  One theory for their success is that they faced longstanding social barriers toward entry into other fields, including the arts, but that such barriers didn’t exist in the new field of photography.  However, women in most countries did face significant economic and social barriers to entrepreneurship, and that may have been the case in Finland, which was part of the Russian Empire until 1917.

Ellen Björklund may have worked professionally for only a short time.  Perhaps she married and continued to work under her husband’s name.  It’s more likely, however, that a marriage would have put an end to her career as a photographer.

Sisters by Ellen Björklund 2

 

*I tentatively explored this interesting topic in a post in February 2018, Female photographers in Sweden: Mimmi Gustafsson and Mathilda Janson.  In January 2020 a photo from that post was included in a page about Mimmi Gustafsson on the website of the new Stockholm Museum of Women’s History (Stockholms Kvinnohistoriska), next to a paragraph under the heading Från Stockholm till Ohio (From Stockholm to Ohio).

 

41 thoughts on “Sisters by Ellen Björklund

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  1. I can only imagine how much fun these sisters would have had together. Lots of giggling and a bit of mischief no doubt 😉. If we could turn them around, I bet we could see their lovely braids. 😊. I love it!

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    1. Well, you’re assuming they get along. 😉 You know, I hadn’t given a single thought to their hair. I bet you’re right that they had pretty braids. Often women who had long hair would show it off for a portrait. If these girls are showing off anything, it’s their beautiful lace collars. (Is there a better word than collar?) Thank you, Suzanne! 🙏

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      1. Collars is just right. 😊. My grandmother was of Swedish descent. She would braid my mother’s hair like the youngest girl in the photo. Many years later my mother did the same to mine. Braids help keep the tangles at bay. A grand invention! Thank you, Brad! 😊

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  2. I wonder if she might have been something other (or more) than a photographer. I went to Google books, and found five references to her in a history of Christmas in Sweden. The references made me think she might have been an artist or designer. The illustrations are missing, but If you click “view all” when the link comes up, there are some interesting trails to follow.

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    1. I ran across a few illustrations from this period by a Swedish artist named Ellen Björklund, but no photographs by her. And I do think the photographer was probably a Swede-Finn, rather than a Swede, because the photo was for sale in Finland. I should probably reach out to a library or archive in Finland to see if they have any record of her. The answer could turn out to be interesting. Thank you, Linda!

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  3. Another wonderful photo!

    I get the sense the girls are tired of posing in rather stiff postures, close to each other with hands just so, told to “Look at mama” or whomever the three older girls are looking at rather than the photographer. The youngest, though, seems thoroughly done with listening to the photographer and her stare communicates that quite well!

    I found myself wondering about the next-to-youngest girl, the only blonde and blue-eyed child. My mind imagines all sorts of stories about how she fit – or didn’t fit – with her darker siblings as they grew older together. I immediately thought of the sisters who feature in many of Jane Austen’s books.

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    1. I love Jane Austen. I read all her novels years ago. Have you seen the new film adaptation of “Emma” (2020)? The costumes are amazing and Bill Nighy is a hoot. I wasn’t sure about Anya Taylor Joy in the role of Emma but she does a good job. Where the film really excels is in the wardrobe and sets. I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it.

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    1. “A pistol”–I like that! Everybody seems to get a kick out of her. Liz said she was giving the photographer “stink eye.” You’re right about the oldest girl looking serene. The older girls probably helped take care of the younger ones. I’ll definitely keep looking for Ellen Björklund. Thank you, Eilene!

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    1. In earlier decades the photographer would have given the girls specific instructions about what to do with their hands. You can tell that wasn’t the case here. It’s better this way, isn’t it? You always notice interesting details, Tracey.

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  4. A brilliant photograph, they all have different facial expressions that are a bit difficult to interpret. Only the little one looks into the camera and the eldest looks like she’s hiding a smile. Interesting readings also, you’re good at researching 😀

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    1. Thank you so much, Anita! The girls are trying to stay very still, but their faces offer some clues about their different emotions at that moment. I think the arrangement of the girls is very unusual, because I’ve never seen a group arranged like this before. It tells us something about the creativity of the mysterious Ellen Björklund. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The little one seems to be rebelling against orders not to look directly at the camera. She’s a little grumpy and adorable. Hopefully she didn’t catch too much ‘heck’ for that. The individuality of each girl is so obvious. I love this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The little one probably didn’t understand what the whole point was! I think about how fast girls grew up in those days–often marrying in their late teens–and I wonder if these four ever got another opportunity to sit together for a portrait. Glad you enjoyed it, Mary Jo!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Ooops – clicked “Post Comment” too soon….
      I liked what you said about Swedish women building successful photographers in the late 19th & early 20th centuries. I’m going to do a bit more reading on that – thanks for that info!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. That’s so nice to hear! These girls are really adorable. The history of Swedish women photographers is just now being published in a book by Eva Dahlman and in articles online–so far only in Swedish–but I imagine their story will become available in English in the not-too-distant future.

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