Signe Viola Brander (1869 – 1942) (Picture: Wikipedia)
Signe Brander was one of the earliest female photographers in Finland. She was one of the most important photographers of landscapes in her time. In her carrier, she took hundreds of photos of buildings and everyday life in Helsinki and was appointed to take photos of Finland’s manor houses. These pictures are highly regarded for their historical and cultural value are the ones that she is most famous for.
Signe Brander got interested in visual arts at young age. After finishing a course at the University of Art and Design on becoming a drawing teacher she worked for Daniel Nyblin at his photo studio, where she found her passion for photography. Brander operated her own photo studio in Helsinki in the early 20th century but was really more interested in photographing landscapes. In 1906 she was hired by the Helsinki antiquities board to take pictures of the city, as it was changing at a rapid pace. This project lasted until 1913 when the board suddenly terminated the contract. The pictures she took of Helsinki are valued for their portrayal of genuine culture and everyday life in the city. Today, these photographs are conserved by the Finnish Heritage Agency and can often be seen at the Helsinki City Museum, for instance.
In 1910 Brander began an extensive project to photograph Finnish manor houses that was most likely commissioned by the official for the archeologic commission and secretary of the Helsinki antiquities board Karl Konrad Meinander. The project was financed by the landlords and took a total of 20 years to finish. This resulted in more than 2000 pictures of over 200 manor houses. During the second year of the project (in 1911) Brander took photos of the manor house at Hertonäs for John Georg Bergbom. J. G. Bergbom and other manor owners donated 915 Finnish marks to the project, which is equivalent to about 3850 euros today.
Copy of the photograph that Signe Brander took of Hertonäs manor house in 1911. (Picture: Signe Brander, 1911, Svenska Odlingens Vänner i Helsinge, CC B.Y. 4.0)
Above is a photo which Brander took of the manor house at Hertonäs in 1911. She also photographed the two pavilions designed by Carl Ludvig Engel in the garden and took pictures of the interior of the manor house. Copies of these pictures are preserved at the picture archive in the museum at Hertonäs manor. The building in this photo was originally a porcelain factory that was rebuilt to be the character house at Hertonäs manor for Carl Olof Cronstedt, according to Pehr Granstedts plans.
Pictures of the pavilions by C. L. Engel in the gardens at Hertonäs manor, taken by Signe Brander in 1911. (Pictures: Signe Brander, 1911, Svenska Odlingens Vänner i Helsinge, CC B.Y. 4.0)
During her lifetime, Signe Brander took many great photographs of landscapes and buildings in Helsinki and at Finnish manors. She also took pictures of, among other things, the battlefields after the Finnish war and took portraits and other pictures for scientific research. Brander died in 1942 in tragic conditions after the bombings of Helsinki, at a hospital in Nickby, when resources and food where in short supply in the area. Her photographs still live on and are highly regarded and desirable.
D. Sirkku et al, “Signe Brander på Finlands Herrgårdar”, 2017, Helsinki.
Kansallisbiografia: “Signe Brander”, https://kansallisbiografia.fi/kansallisbiografia/henkilo/3311
Sten Selin’s historical internship at Hertonäs Manor Museum is financed by the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland.