When Carl Størmer was studying mathematics at the Royal Frederick University (now University of Oslo) in the 1890s, he fell in love with a woman but was too shy to introduce himself. Wanting a photograph of her, he purchased a C.P. Stirn Concealed Vest Spy Camera to make one without her knowledge. The round flat canister was hidden under his vest while the lens fit through the buttonhole and the cable release reached into his pocket to snap photographs on the sly.
The romance was not to be but Størmer’s stalker-ish ways continued as he photographed people on the streets of Oslo until he completed his studies in 1897, creating a total of 500 secret photographs. In 1958, Sydney Chapman published an article on Størmer in Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society that further explained that the woman left for America and married. Years later she returned to Oslo and, meeting her, Størmer told her about his photography and the part that she had (unknowingly) played.
Although he went on to have a successful career in physics and mathematics—teaching at the same university for over 40 years—Størmer remained dedicated to photography. He wrote texts on astrophotography for amateurs and in his 70s mounted an exhibition of his buttonhole photography. Greeting his subjects to get their attention, the images show lively moments—men tipping their hats in greeting, people relaxing in the park—in sharp contrast to the severe posed portraits of the time. Størmer’s street photographs provide a fascinating and genuine look at Oslo’s residents in the 1890s.