Finland, 1906. An amateur photographer named Frans Nyberg takes 9 snaps in Helsinki. 9 pictures that lead to a life.

Kerstin Ahnger, Katajanokka, Helsinki, ca 1906.

Released from the archives of the Society of Swedish Literature in Finland to coincide with Helsiki’s 200th year anniversary. these nine images were captured by an amateur photographer named Frans Nyberg.

Nyberg’s snaps, like a tiny shaft of light into a dark attic, present us with a small but crystal sharp portal into some very everyday events in 1906 Helsinki

Crowded street celebrations on May Day, “bank girls” walking on the Klippan foreshore on the tiny harbour island of Louto, his relatives on a park bench (Pi and Ulla Berg who look like twins – are they his children? Is Elsa Berg his wife?). Kerstin Ahnger, her shy, smiling face shadowed by a flat and wide straw hat leaning on an enormous wooden carpenters horse in the rubble of a demolished building, forever a mystery.

Bruno and Ingrid Aminoff at the Market Square, Helsinki, 1906.

There’s this sartorial pair too. Bruno and Ingrid Aminoff. A quick search finds Bruno on He was a railway station inspector from Helsinki and he died in Russia’s Karelia Republic in 1929, age 57. His middle name was Roland. Nyberg’s photos of the Aminoffs are sharp, well exposed and composed.

Bruno and Ingrid Aminoff, Katajanokka, Helsinki, 1906.
Frans Nyberg (1882-1962)

And what kind of person was this amateur photographer? Frans Nyberg was a Finnish architect, graphic designer, a teacher and a painter. Born in Helsinki in 1882, he graduated as an architect in 1903, and was employed by the Emanuel Nobel Oil Company in Baku, Azerbaijan. So when he took these photos in 1906 he was 24 years old and most likely home in Helsinki on holiday, catching up with family and friends.

Pi and Ulla Berg, Pa Nyberg and Elsa Berg at Skatudden around 1906. Photo by Frans Nyberg.
Part of a scale model of a plan for Munkkiniemi-Haaga by Eliel Saarinen (1915), something of the sort of project that Frans would have worked on at Saarinen’s firm.

During the 1910s, he worked for a quite prestigious architectural firm: Gottlieb Eliel Saarinen. There he helped develop city planning proposals for Canberra in Australia and Tallinn in Eastonia amongst other places. His architectural zenith was when he designed & drafted the plans for two Finnish city halls, in Lahti and in Joensuu.

Bank girls at Klippan in May 1906. Photo by Frans Nyberg.


Lahti City Hall, Lahti, Finland. Completed in 1912
Joensuun City Hall, Finland. Completed in 1914
Men on a bench. The Esplanade in Helsinki, 1906.
Island Itätoukki (Östertokan) outside Helsinki, ca 1906.
Ships at the harbor of the market square, Helsinki
South Esplanadi, Helsinki, ca 1906.


City council house in Porvoo. Frans Nyberg, (1942).
Untitled watercolour. Frans Nyberg, (1935).

In the 1920s Frans changed tack, moved 35 miles east of Helsinki, to Porvoo and began working as a drawing teacher in a girls school. He would stay working in the visual arts and in Provo for the rest of his life. He etched and painted in watercolours mainly, street scenes and landscapes of Finnish cities, harbour views and factory interiors. The Finnish wikipedia states that he held several exhibitions of his work. Another search finds his watercolours. They are, as you’d expect from an architect turned drawing teacher, perfectly precise and well proportioned. Competent. One of them is of a town hall. It sold for €200.

25 years after he took those photos in 1906, here’s Frans Nyberg at his graphic press on Berggatan14, Porvoo in the late 1930s. Photo: Hjalmar Lindfors.

The museum in Porvoo holds over 100 of Nyberg’s watercolours of the town as well as over 800 works from all over Finland.

In his 80th year Frans Nyberg died, a Porvoo local hero, in 1962.

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