Kitsch Cameras and a Letter to the King

2 min read Finished Likely

A good photographic print has always caught my eye. Every time I visit my grandmother and grandfather for a countryside cup of tea, I get this keen urge to go on a small house adventure. Taking my fair time, I wonder from room to room exploring their wonderful collection of historic photographs.

Each room has it’s own story. From the drawing room, to the breakfast room, dining room, and onto the living room. Where does it end? I just don’t know.

From time to time, someone will catch me in the middle of a house adventure. Great! Moments like these are opportunities to hear the backstory of another photo. With a little patience, it’s amazing what you’ll learn. These days, I’m almost trying to get caught — just to hear more stories.

My photo walks begin in the drawing room overlooking the garden pond. On display: our “greatest hits drawings” by the grand children featuring funny impressionist paintings of family members. However, hidden behind the door there’s a large aerial photograph of the surrounding farmlands.

I’ll never forget the day when the pilot of the aeroplane came knocking on the door to sell his aerial photography services. I was 8 years old and can’t remember if I was more excited about the idea of a photograph taken from the air or the aeroplane itself. But, the memory makes me smile. Hats off to good old fashioned door sales, mister pilot!

A month later, I was visiting my grandparents again. The aerial photograph hadn’t been captured yet, which was a bit disappointing. Suddenly, I noticed my grandfather approaching me with a small box in his hand and a spark in his eye.

I could sense his excitement as I opened it to find a black plastic film camera. My first camera as a 90s kid. He gave me a quick film photography for dummies demonstration and showed me the basic principles of getting a good exposure. Also, hats off to gen Z for the recent comeback of these old kitsch plastic cameras!

24 years of photo walks later, my grandfather knocked on my bedroom door. He pulled out an old black and white photograph from an envelope in his personal archives. Time for another backstory.

He showed me the photo of King Haakon VII and the Norwegian Government being evacuated from Tromsø during WWII on 7th June 1940, by the British HMS Devonshire.

This photo was taken by my grandfather’s uncle Harold, who was serving on the warship during WWII. Harold had named two of the men as King Haakon VII and Crown Prince Olav V of Norway. There is little documentation of the evacuation itself, which makes this a quite special photograph.

At his request, we sent the photo by post to The Royal Court of Norway in 2008 and received a courteous reply from Cabinet Secretary, Berit Tversland:

“H.M. The King has asked me to thank you for the photograph taken on board H.M.S. Devonshire which you have been kind enough to send His Majesty.”

On 13th May 1945, the HMS Devonshire brought back Crown Prince Olav V to Oslo, and on 7th June 1945 the warship escorted King Haakon VII and Crown Princess Märtha and their children back to Norway.

HMS Devonshire, Oslo fjord 13th May 1945. Photo courtesy of Michael Ramm Østgaard og Kajsa Østgaard.

All the photos remind me, that there are hundreds of thousands of backstories. Each one with their own perspective. With time and a little patience, you might get a little deeper. More importantly, I want to thank my grandparents and everyone else who leaves out little traces of history to be explored. Though the photographic prints may be old in comparison to my lifetime, they are a snapshot of life just a couple of generations before me. When I look at them, I see a generation of dedication to common good. I encourage each of you to take a moment to reflect on your own family stories and the inspiration they might give you.