Siste Skanse – Tromsø, Norway - Atlas Obscura
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Tromsø, Norway

Siste Skanse

The world's most charming instant portrait studio also happens to be its smallest. 

Sorry, Siste Skanse is permanently closed.

There’s something uniquely thrilling, stubborn, and enchanting about choosing to use antiquated technology in a modern society; few places on Earth better make use of all three of these characteristics than Siste Skanse. 

Norwegian for “last stand,” photographer Kristian Gundersen opened his tiny studio in Tromsø in January 2014 as a tiny refuge for lovers of perfectly imperfect photographic portraiture. Located above the Arctic Circle in a renovated, century-old newspaper kiosk, Gundersen produces “instant” portraits that only our grandparents’ generation would call such.

With nary an iPhone or DSLR in sight (save for those possibly brought by the clientele), Gunderson assumes an all-analog approach to harnessing the human spirit.  Visitors to Siste Skanse will most often come face-to-face with his Graflex Crown Graphic with a Polaroid #405 back. They can then choose whether they prefer a cityscape background or plain black. During the winter months, when the extreme northern latitude means sunlight is nonexistent, a series of strategically-placed desk lamps fill the void. Five to ten minutes later, they have their very own portrait in-hand. 

The outer dimensions of the space measure just 63-square-feet, but the inner sanctum is significantly smaller at just ten-square-feet. It handles four adults reasonably well (three subjects, plus the photographer), though it once held a wholly unreasonable ten humans. For the record: Gundersen hopes to never approach anywhere near that number again.

When asked why he created such an unlikely endeavor when DSLRs and iPhones proliferate with such ease, it’s clear this isn’t some twee installation made for the heck of it; “Siste Skanse is a rare occasion where the outnumbered defenders of analogue photography succeed in their endeavors and get to fight another day.”

Gundersen cares about his portraiture against all odds with the vehemence of someone engaged in a battle between darkness and light. Siste Skanse’s existence is ideological in nature, from its tiny size to its weapons of choice. 

For anyone who’s ever experienced the excitement of peeling back layers of chemical and paper to reveal an image conjured from a light and time, it’s plain that Siste Skanse is a rare, tiny outpost built by one of the good guys – where the past is still being tangibly linked with the present, and where magic can be pulled from the arctic air and held in your hand.