1890s Spy Cam Photos Show Early Street Photography & (Surprise) Victorians Actually Smiling!

In the past Fredrik Carl Mülertz Størmer was known for his scientific achievements. Størmer was born in 1874 in Norway and, likely because his father was an apothecary, he developed a keen interest in anything to do with math, science, or botany. Størmer studied math at what is known today as the University of Oslo where he was living as a curious 19-year-old. The young student decided to purchase a spy camera as part of his enthusiastic photography hobby.

Wiki Commons

Størmer and assistant Kristian Birkeland photographing the Northern Lights in 1910. Via/ Wiki Commons

The resulting images from this incredibly modern device reveal some of the world’s first street photography. Maybe just as important, the images also capture Victorian-era folks on the street, smiling, twirling their umbrellas, and engaged in a way that studio photography of the era completely stifled owing to long exposure times.

The spy cam, the Stirn Concealed Vest Camera, was one of the first of its kind, a concept that would later become ubiquitous to the small ads in comics and also serve as a plot device for many a spy show. But, in the 1890s it was a truly novel concept and cameras were not usually very compact during this time. The Stirn model shot photos on round slides, with the funnel-shaped lens lending a unique look to the photographs.

Størmer fit the camera lens into a button hole on his lapel and the shutter was controlled via his pocket. A few of his subjects seem like they might be slightly suspicious. However, most are smiling and appear to be greeting him, a truly rare thing for Victorian era photographs!

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