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July 16, 2021

25 Stunning Portraits of Indigenous Sami People Taken by Lotten von Düben From the Mid-19th Century

Lotten von Düben (1828–1915) was an early Swedish amateur photographer who is remembered for her images of the Sami people. In 1857, she married Baron Gustaf von Düben, a doctor of medicine and professor of pathological anatomy at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm who from 1868 began to compile a catalogue of Lapp skulls. It was illustrated with photographs taken by Lotten von Düben, probably based on the approach adopted by Carl Curman who had a photographic studio in the building where the couple lived.

On July 3, 1868, the von Dübens left Stockholm by ship on the first expedition to Lapland, undertaking a study of the Sami people. They took with them all the heavy photographic equipment they needed to produce iodinated collodion negatives. Using a stereo camera, Lotten von Dühen photographed the Samis first from the front, then in profile.

In 1871, they returned to the area, this time with two cameras. To document their findings, in 1873 Gustaf von Düben published Om Lappland och Lapparne, företrädesvis de Svenske: Ethnografiska Studier af Gustaf von Düben which was illustrated with his wife’s photographs.

Von Düben also took many landscape photographs of the Swedish mountains and waterfalls during her trips to Lapland. Unlike her contemporaries, she photographed the scenery to provide a record for herself rather than to sell the images. Taken in the open air rather than in a studio, her portraits show the Sami in their natural environment. Together with the work of Bertha Valerius and Rosalie Sjöman, von Düben’s photographs constitute an important chapter in the history of Swedish photography.


  1. Please call them Sami people and not "lapps", it is demeaning to them, and for your info, it is not called lapland any more, but Finland. Thanks.

    1. You are right about the term "Lapp", but the territory refered to as "Lappland" here is not Finland. "Lappland" is commonly used to name the northernmost regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland, usually understood as the area where the Sami live. This is rather inaccurate, as many Samis live outside this region, and there are Sami people also in the Kola peninsula, in Russia. The term used by the Sami to refer to their land is Sápmi, but the use of this name has not spread outside their community to the same extent as that of their own demonym.




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