Signe Brander (1869–1942) was the first professional museum photographer in Finland. Established in 1906, the purpose of the Antiquities Board of Helsinki was to produce a collection of documents about the disappearing face of Helsinki. In a bold and forward-thinking move, the board selected the modern camera as the tool and hired a woman for the job – namely, Miss Signe Brander. In addition to the gradually vanishing cityscapes, the board urged her to capture anything of interest from street views to urban life. Indeed, the most typical of Signe’s photos are pictures of streets, which captured random passers-by and the daily activities of city residents.
The Antiquities Board carefully oversaw the creation of the 907-photo collection by providing specific instructions for taking the pictures and by only claiming select shots. In admiring the pictures, however, one cannot overlook Signe’s own relationship with Helsinki and its residents and her views on composition, perspective and other principles of creating a visual narrative. Signe Brander called herself a photographer of cultural history – a title that she well deserves thanks to her expertly-shot portraits, landscapes, cityscapes and candid photos of people.
15 April 2019 marked the 150th anniversary of Signe Brander’s birth.