On the trail of Knud Knudsen

Explore the Hardanger region following the footsteps of a celebrated Norwegian photographer

Knud Knudsen

Photo: Knud Knudsen / University of Bergen Library, Norway
“Buerbræen i Hardanger.” The Buerbræen (Buer Glacier) in Hardanger.

Kirsten Roverud Heine
Decorah, Iowa

Travel Editor’s note: Kirsten Roverud Heine has organized and planned the tour,  “Through the lens: Images of Norway,” June 19 to July 1, 2020. Join National Geographic Explorer and photography expert, Erika Skogg, who received a National Geographic Early Career Grant for her project “Scandinavian American;” Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum Development Officer Kirsten Heine, and Brekke guide and Norwegian native, Mari Anne Roppe, and explore the homeland of Knud Knudsen, a pioneer of early Norwegian photography. Brekke Tours, a tour operator serving the Scandinavian market since 1956, is handling arrangements.


Knud Knudsen, one of Norway’s most celebrated photographers, was born in 1832 and lived with his family near the town of Odda on the Tokheim farm. Odda, at the furthest end of the Hardanger Fjord or Sørfjorden arm, was known for its breathtaking waterfalls, and until 1913, when the implementation of the hydro-electric plants commenced, it was the most visited tourist region in Norway. Kaiser Wilhelm brought his personal yacht from Germany each summer and spent the summer there to take in the natural beauty. When you visit today, it is most known for the popular hike to Trolltunga, one of the more awe-inspiring cliffs in Norway.

Knud Knudsen

Photo: Knud Knudsen / University of Bergen Library, Norway
“Parti fra Hardanger.” View from Hardanger: Fruit harvesting

However, in 1840, life on the farm at Tokheim was challenging. Tokheim in the mid-1800s was a small village with houses and barns clustered together, so that the extended family could essentially live self-sufficiently, raising sheep, goats, chickens, fishing in the fjords and streams, tending gardens, and growing fruit. Knudsen as a young boy was also sent to live with and help an uncle and aunt, who owned a shop in Bergen. So, from an early age, living both in Bergen and Tokheim, he learned to navigate both social settings with ease.

But Knudsen had passions. He was very interested in studying horticulture and traveled to Germany to specifically study pomology, a branch of botany that studies and cultivates fruit. At one time, he had over 150 varieties of apple trees growing in his nursery or plantskole.

Knud Knudsen

Photo: Knud Knudsen / University of Bergen Library, Norway
“En Gruppe. (Motiv for Malere).” A group. (Subject for painters).

As the eldest child, Knudsen by law inherited the family farm. He most likely understood that he could not live in Bergen half of the year and still maintain the farm, so he deeded it to his sister Martha and her husband Jorgen Tokheim. More than 50 of the 80 family members at Tokheim left for America.

That is where this story becomes personal for my own family. There were six Tokheim brothers who left the farm in Norway and settled in Thor, Iowa. My husband David is the great great-grandson of Lars (Lewis) Tokheim, who farmed in Thor. It was in 1995, at the invitation of his cousin Barbara Bulman, that David and I first traveled to Tokheim. There was something magical and soulful about standing on that soil. That trip left a big imprint upon my heart.

Photo courtesy of Kirsten Roverud Heine
The author picking apples at Tokheim farm near the town of Odda in the Hardanger region.

Knudsen had also become fascinated with photography and was an early studio photographer in Bergen. He traveled extensively throughout the Norwegian countryside, capturing its people and nature. These iconic photographs were then sold to the many tourists who had just begun traveling great distances to visit Norway.

Knud Knudsen

Photo: Knud Knudsen / University of Bergen Library, Norway
Portrait of Knudsen family. Knud Knudsen is the fourth person from the left in the back row.

Knudsen was especially moved to capture everyday images of his own family at Tokheim. Today his images give us rare glimpses of life in rural Norway in the late 1800s. In addition to photographs, he worked with stereographs, taking two images and mounting them side by side on card stock, creating an early 3D effect and later with real photo postcards. These were very popular at the time and were sold to both tourists and community members.

All of Knudsen’s extraordinary glass plates are now at the University of Bergen. Since his method required a great deal of equipment and materials, it is fascinating to think of his traveling to remote locations in Norway in quest of capturing the majestic images for posterity. It took a great deal of effort to even reach the location as well as having to rely on perfect light and stillness of the object.

I am truly excited to be organizing and leading this very special tour. We will visit some of my “favorite” places in Norway, places that Knud Knudsen photographed over 100 years ago. Learn about the Knud Knudsen collection housed at the University of Bergen from the collection’s curator. Erika Skogg, as photographer and educator, will be on hand for presentations and demonstrations. We will have the opportunity to visit places and people that most groups would never have the chance to see, including a meeting with Tokheim relatives and city officials from Odda and regional cultural officials who will share their plans to showcase Knudsen’s work.

We will take the motor coach to the Tokheim farm where Knudsen grew up and nurtured his passion for apple farming and take photos from the exact locations as Knudsen did over 100 years ago. Today, there are some 1,500 apple trees on the farm, many of them heritage varieties. We will also visit the Norwegian Museum of Hydro Power and Industry in Tyssedal to view more of Knudsen’s work. This is only a small portion of the trail we will follow in the footsteps of Knud Knudsen and my own return to family’s roots.


For more information, see www.brekketours.com or call (800) 437-5302.

This article originally appeared in the January 24, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.