Self portrait

Self portrait
Self portrait

Rosalie Sjöman was one of the many prominent female photographers active during photography’s infancy from the 1840s right up to 1900.

Rosalie Sjöman was born in Kalmar in 1833. Her father was the captain of a merchant vessel who was employed by Handelsflottan (the merchant navy). Rosalie married Sven Sjöman, also a merchant navy captain, when she was 22 years old. The couple moved to Stockholm, where their first son was born in 1857. Three years later a second son was born. The family initially lived in Söder and then moved to Djurgårdsvärvet where Sven Sjöman was permanently employed as a steamboat captain. The couple’s daughter Alma was born in 1861. Three years later Sven Sjöman died, leaving young Rosalie Sjöman as the sole carer for her three small children.

Rosalie Sjöman became established as a photographer in 1864, opening her own studio on Drottninggatan 42. Carl Jacob Malmberg had previously had his studio at the same address and according to some accounts she had worked for him. Her enterprise expanded and by the late 1870s she had five staff working for her. She appears to have only hired women. R. Sjöman & Comp. later opened a studio at Regeringsgatan 6, with branches in Halmstad, Kalmar, and Vaxholm. Rosalie Sjöman’s surviving output includes a large collection of calling-card portraits (which were 9x6cm) and larger so-called ‘kabinett’ cards (which were 13x10cm). Her photographic motifs comprised a mixture of classic portrait studies, individuals wearing traditional costumes, various mise-en-scènes, and mosaic images. Rosalie Sjöman became known for her enamel photography which was produced by covering the outer layer of the image with a thin layer of collodion producing an extremely shiny exterior. Of particular prominence were also her extremely skilfully produced hand-coloured images, mainly of her daughter Alma Sjöman.

Photography broke through as an art form in France in 1839. Sweden was one of the first countries to adopt the skills required for the first successful photographic technique, namely the daguerreotype. Early photography went through a lot of experimental stages and it was not long before a negative image was produced on light-sensitive paper in a camera in England, thereby leading to the discovery of the negative. During the 1860s the art of photography transformed from just being a new and exclusive art to becoming a more widespread and generally available technique. The popular ‘carte de visite’ or calling-card portraits were introduced in France in the mid-1850s and became highly desirable items. This type of image spread quickly and portrait studios opened in both big cities and smaller places. This ‘cartomania’ lasted for about a decade before the market stabilised in the mid-1870s and photography entered a calmer phase.

Rosalie Sjöman was active throughout this period of expansion, as were other successful female photographers such as Lotten von Düben, Emma Schenson, and Bertha Valerius. During this time becoming a photographer, a copyist or a retoucher were all normal career options for women. Lotten von Düben was a pioneer of scientific photography and accompanied her husband, doctor Gustaf von Düben, on his travels through Lappland, documenting the Sami culture. Emma Schenson became famous for her architectural photographic studies, particularly of Uppsala cathedral. Bertha Valerius was a well-reputed portrait photographer in Stockholm whose clients included the royal family. The work of all four of these female photographers is represented by their photographs in the Moderna museet and Nordiska museet collections.

Rosalie Sjöman died in Stockholm in 1919 and is buried at the Norra cemetery in Solna.

Rosalie Sofie Sjöman, www.skbl.se/sv/artikel/RosalieSofieSjoman, Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikon. Article by Anna Tellgren. Translated by Alexia Grosjean. Retrieved 2021-06-10. CC-BY.

Self portrait.