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Berg, Jacob
b. (c) 1858; d. (c) 1897
Discipline: Photography

Born in Fosnes, Norway on February 11, 1858, Jacob Berg arrived in Grand Forks in about 1881. He had moved from Minneapolis, where he worked as a camera assistant and operator for Swedish photographer John H. Oleson. In Grand Forks, he succeeded William Caswell, one of the country’s first professional stereoscopic photographers. Berg established his first studio and gallery above the Ottawa Saloon, but this was destroyed by fire in December 1882.

While Berg was a professional portrait and landscape photographer, he is known today for his stereoscopic photographs of the massive Grand Forks flood of 1882. (The city sits at the junction of the Red River and Red Lake River. Although an annual rite of spring, the flood that swept through Grand Forks between April 12 and 20, 1882 was especially devastating. At its peak, the rivers raised more than 40 feet above the low water mark, demolished entire parts of the city, and buried elevated bridges under several feet of water.)

Stereoscopic photography dates back to the earliest days of the art. Designed to imitate the stereo vision of the human eye, stereoscopic cameras made two almost identical images of the same subject, one taken about two inches away from the other. Once developed and printed, both images were placed side-by-side on a device called a stereoscope, which, through lenses, blended the two images into one that had the appearance of depth (or three dimensions). Early photographs were made by moving the camera laterally between exposures, although Berg most likely used a double-lens camera.

One of Berg’s better-known photographs of the flood shows long wooden planks from houses floating underneath the only railroad bridge in the area. Another is of several men standing on the bridge. A third image shows what appears to be train crossing the bridge.

After the flood, Berg remained in Grand Forks until his death in 1897. He married Christina Langord on December 7, 1881. They had three daughters (Amanda, Ella, and Ethel) and two sons (Jacob and Anton).

His photographs are the only known visual documentation of the 1882 flood.

- Ben Nemenoff

Partial catalog (7 pages) of Norwegian stereoscope photos (containing Berg's views of well-known places and scenery)

Jacob Berg's obituary

Bibliography:

Marriage announcement: Grand Forks Herald, December 9, 1881, p1. Obituary: Grand Forks Herald, Tuesday, November 23, 1897, p8.

Hooper, Bruce. “Jacob Berg of Grand Forks, D.T.: Stereographs of the Flood of 1882.” Stereo World, Vol. 16, No. 1, March/April 1989.

Swedlund, Charles. Photography. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1981.

Bedell, Susan. "Online Artist Archive."

Bedell, David. "Online Artist Archive."

Other Sources:

State Historical Society of North Dakota
 
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