Brita Sofia Hesselius was the first woman to have her own photo atelier in Sweden. She also ran the first girls’ school in Karlstad.
Brita Sofia Hesselius was born in 1801 in Alster parish in Värmland, in mid-Sweden. She was the daughter of Anna Katarina Roman and Olov Hesselius, a works inspector. Her paternal grandfather was a vicar, Jonas Hesselius in Särna.
In 1845, Brita Sofia Hesselius opened her own photo atelier in Karlstad. It was the first permanent photo atelier in Värmland, and she was probably the first woman in Sweden who was a professional photographer. She also ran a girls’ school together with the sisters Maria and Hanna Tellin. Brita Sofia Hesselius was responsible for teaching drawing and painting at the school. Apart from teaching, she painted portraits in oils and made daguerreotypes, which were a simpler form of photography in which the image was formed in amalgam on a silver-plated copper sheet. Daguerreotypes were used first and foremost for portraits. They were expensive to produce and the resulting images could not be reproduced. That became possible with new photography techniques later on.
The method of making daguerreotypes was first demonstrated in 1839. The same year, the first publication appeared on photography in Swedish and knowledge about this spread rapidly. Most photographers during the next decades were however itinerant. Brita Sofia Hesselius was therefore probably a pioneer since she opened a permanent atelier as early as 1845. Hedvig Söderström, active in Stockholm from 1857, and Maria Kinnberg, active in Gothenburg and Norrköping from 1852, have otherwise previously been seen as the first women photographers in Sweden.
Brita Sofia Hesselius terminated her enterprise in Karlstad in 1853 and moved back to Stockholm, where she continued her pedagogical activities. She died in 1866 in Menton in France, where she lived the last years of her life.