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Museum Of Art

Behind the Gallery: Student Educator Joseph Rowley Shares Insights on "Across the West and Toward the North"

This new photography exhibit showcases the work of both Norwegian and American photographers—Rowley shares the surprising connection between the two

What do 19th-century Norwegian and American photography have in common? It may be tempting to say “not much”—but in fact, these two have a surprisingly strong connection.

North Cape. Knud Knudsen, 1885.

The Museum of Art’s new photography exhibit “Across the West and Toward the North: Norwegian and American Landscape Photography” showcases the work of both Norwegian and American photographers as they documented their national landscapes. Student educator Joseph Rowley shared his insights on how both the form and subjects of these photographs tie two seemingly disparate nations together.

“There are actually some really interesting similarities between what early photographers were doing in the American West and what early pioneering photographers were doing in Norway,” said Rowley. “Both the American and the Norwegian photographers in this period, these pioneering photographers, got really excited about certain things that are interesting for us to look back at.”

These “certain things” that got the American and Norwegian photographers so excited were the innovative new forms of travel and infrastructure that made it possible. Taken during the height of national discovery, the photographs in the exhibit embody the spirit of exploration that took hold of American and Norwegian citizens alike.

Pueblo Laguna, New Mexico. William Henry Jackson, 1875.

Because of innovations in travel technology, such as railroads and expansive bridges, more people were able to visit places that had previously been out of reach. Not only were people able to travel to these new places, but they were also able to use photography to capture the fascinating inventions that brought them there.

“People able to travel and access and see these beautiful national and natural landscapes that they wouldn't have been able to see before,” said Rowley. “And so the photographers not just interested in the place but also in the process of how they got there and the new technology and engineering infrastructure that made that possible.”

The Voss Railway. Between Trengeried and Vaksdal. Axel Lindahl, 1885–88.

What makes this new exhibit even more fascinating for Rowley is the connection that it has to the Utah landscape and heritage. “Not only is the place where a lot of those photographs were taken—we're right here in the heart of the American West—but also where a lot of Norwegian and Scandinavian immigrants came,” said Rowley.

“A lot of these people who had lived were now coming and seeing . . . some similar landscapes,” he continued. “They were transplanted thousands of miles away, and yet that mountain looks kind of the same, or that sheep herd could have been either place.”

This connection to Norwegian immigrant ancestry is what makes this collection of photographs especially poignant for Rowley.

“We're all connected in some way. If you're from Utah or around this area, you ended up here somehow, right?” he said. “Even if you don't have a great-great-great-grandmother who traveled from Norway to the United States to Utah . . . if you moved here for school or your parents moved here, knowing what that experience is like could give you some insight into what the experience was like for the people of this period.”

Petrified Fish Cut, Green River, Wyoming. William Henry Jackson, c. 1880.

Rowley added that he hopes museum patrons will walk away from the exhibit having connected with at least one of the photographs.

“I'm hoping that people will walk away with just one that they'll remember,” he said. “I hope that walk out remembering that one photo and maybe something that surprised about it . . . with a different perspective where realize there were real people behind this camera lens.”

Opening on January 28, “Across the West and Toward the North: Norwegian and American Landscape Photography” will take you on a visual roadtrip through breathtaking national landscapes you won’t want to miss.