Photographer Peter Elfelt takes a self-portrait in a mirror.
Photo: Peter Elfelt

The Camera and Us

Permanent exhibition of photographs from the Royal Danish Library's collections 1845-2021.

The first permanent exhibition on the history of photography in Denmark

The Camera and Us presents a selection of works from the photography collections of library, which contain several million images. The theme is the human being as a motif and the exhibition asks what photography does to our perception of ourselves and our conceptions of each other.

The daguerreotypists, the name given to history's first photographers, fascinated the world with the new discovery in 1839. People had never before seen themselves represented in such detail and so quickly. The lifelike images were regarded as pure magic, and suddenly the art of portraiture was no longer restricted to society's elite. Photographs of human beings spread throughout the world – today they are everywhere. For almost two hundred years, the medium has become our more important means of communication and recollection, while at the same time it has developed as a special art form.

In The Camera and Us its history is told, based on various forms of photography which all share the fact that they characterise our present-day visual culture. From the first expensive portraits made on silver-plated copper sheets to the constant image stream of the digital age that permeates our public and private lives.

From portrait to porno

Portrait photographers and paparazzi allow us to get a glimpse of the rich and famous to whom we otherwise would not have access. Documentarists have shown us how other people live under unjust social conditions, but have also helped spread prejudices about a specially dignified way of being poor. Family albums preserve our memories of our happiest hours, but at the same time create a glossy image of the family's history. ID photography began as a simple paper picture for identification, but now features electronic signals that can be used for automatic face recognition. In the press we see people at instants that can become historic because they are being photographed. In fashion photography narrow bodily ideals are created that at the same time are dream images for new generations. Pornography, which is the most widespread form of photography on the Internet, helps to shape our lust through images.

Photographs not only show something – they do something to us. Reflecting on what photography does to our self-image and our conception of others is something which artists have been investigating for a long time. Throughout the entire exhibition the public meets artists who create images of people, alone or in groups. Sometimes also of themselves. This work sheds light on how photography has been used to create and play with identity. The exhibition has been prepared by curator of photography Sarah Giersing and senior researcher Mette Kia Krabbe Meyer, PhD, both of whom ordinarily work in Special Collections at the Royal Danish Library. Together they are also preparing the book The Camera and Us, which is being published in connection with the opening of the exhibition. The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive events programme, with educational offers and activities for the public that will be presented by the library's Department of Cultural Activities.

A cornucopia of photographers

The exhibition contains works by such photographers as Arvida Byström, Pia Arke, Peter Elfelt, Richard Avedon, Claude Cahun, Martin Parr, Thomas Ruff, Tove Kurzweil, Krass Clement, Nicolai Howalt, Fryd Frydendahl and many more. The exhibition is being realised with financial support from Aage og Johanne Louis-Hansens Fond og Augustinus Fonden.

Kameraet og os - gæst kigger på portrætter

From portrait to porno

Portrait photographers and paparazzi allow us to get a glimpse of the rich and famous to whom we otherwise would not have access. Documentarists have shown us how other people live under unjust social conditions, but have also helped spread prejudices about a specially dignified way of being poor. Family albums preserve our memories of our happiest hours, but at the same time create a glossy image of the family's history.

Kvinde fotograferer foto til Kameraet og Os

The individual and the communities

ID photography began as a simple paper picture for identification, but now features electronic signals that can be used for automatic face recognition. In the press, we see people at instants that can become historic simply because they are being photographed. In fashion photography, narrow bodily ideals are created that are also dream images for new generations. Pornography, which is the most widespread form of photography on the Internet, helps to shape our desires through images.

Photographs not only show something – they do something to us. Reflecting on what photography does to our self-image and our conception of others is something which artists have been investigating for a long time. Throughout the entire exhibition, the public meets artists who create images of people, alone or in groups. Sometimes also of themselves. This work sheds light on how photography has been used to create and play with identity.

Kameraet og os - gæster kigger på montrer

A cornucopia of photographers

The exhibition includes works by, among others, Arvida Byström, Per Morten Abrahamsen, Pia Arke, Richard Avedon, Claude Cahun, Julia Margaret Cameron, Krass Clement, Holger Damgaard, Jeannette Ehlers, Walker Evans, Per Folkver, Peter Funch, Charlotte Haslund-Christensen, Jesper Høm, Ditte Haarløv-Johnsen, Petra Kleis, Rigmor Mydtskov, Felix Nadar, Rie Nissen, Anders Petersen, Thomas Ruff, August Sander, Henrik Saxgren and Trine Søndergaard.

The exhibition is created by curator of photography Sarah Giersing and senior researcher, PhD Mette Kia Krabbe Meyer, who both work daily in the Royal Danish Library special collections. Together, they have also produced the book "The Camera and Us", which was published in connection with the exhibition opening.

The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive dissemination programme with both educational offers and audience activities.

The exhibition is supported by

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