Born: 1891, Fåvang, Norway
Died: 1969, Oslo, Norway
Paul Berge’s work with still and moving images earned him the nickname “The Polar Film Photographer”. It was, he said, a recording of the coronation ceremony of King Haakon and Queen Maud in 1906 that had inspired his early interest in film.
Berge’s first camera experience came through his cousin, who worked with film in Oslo. He then continued his education and work in Copenhagen, which he referred to as “Nordic Hollywood”, and stayed for almost four years.
Berge first filmed Roald Amundsen at the launch of the polar ship Maud in Vollen, Asker, on 7 June 1917, and their continuing collaboration saw Berge visit Uranienborg several times.
In 1924, Berge went with Adolf Hoel to Svalbard, where he documented several of the mining facilities. The photographs from this trip can be seen in the Norwegian Polar Institute’s online archive 📜.
In 1925, on Reidar Lund‘s recommendation, Berge was hired by Amundsen as photographer for the flying boat expedition from Svalbard to the North Pole. Taking with him a reported 5,000 metres of film, Berge left Oslo in March with several of the expedition’s participants on a train bound for Trondheim. He continued to Tromsø aboard the steamship DS Haakon VII and joined the Hobby there for the voyage to Kings Bay (Ny-Ålesund) 📜. Berge made several film recordings of his journey to Svalbard and of the preparations in King’s Bay for the expedition, as well its departure and return. In his book about the expedition, Amundsen described how Berge “was present everywhere. Yes, one could hardly blow one’s nose without Berge being there and capturing the action.”📜
The actual expedition and its enforced stay on the ice were filmed by Oskar Omdal, who had been trained by Lund. The finishing work was done by Berge’s company A/S Spektro-film. The film was well received after its Norwegian premiere in September 1925, and in 2013 it was restored and re-released.
In 1926, Berge was engaged as a photographer for the Norge airship expedition. He was present at Ciampino Airport outside Rome to film the handover of the airship on March 29 and then followed Amundsen and others on board Knut Skaaluren to Svalbard. On arrival in Kings Bay, Berge began documenting the preparations and then the airship’s arrival on May 7. Two days later, Berge filmed the departure of the Americans Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett as they attempted to fly to the North Pole in their Fokker aircraft. Owing mainly to the aircraft’s known maximum airspeed and to Byrd’s questionable navigational records, however, their claim to have reached the pole remains controversial.
The released film of the Norge expedition consisted of both Berge’s advance footage and Emil Horgen’s footage from the flight itself. It premiered on September 20, 1926, at Oslo’s Victoria and Frogner cinema and was also restored and re-released in 2013.
Roald Amundsen placed great value on Paul Berge’s work, and his films were important for communicating and generating income after the expeditions. When Norwegian film photographers were criticized in 1928 for being less skilled than foreign ones, Amundsen reacted with a statement of support in the newspapers that expressed his warmest appreciation of both Berge and Reidar Lund.
In addition to his polar work, Berge made several agricultural films and films about Norway, and filmed the outdoor scenes in the 1928 Norwegian classic “Bergenstoget plyndret i natt” (“Raid On The Bergen Express”). In 1963, Paul Berge was interviewed by NRK as part of the series “Møte med…”.
(Click on the image to watch the interview online at the NRK archives)📜
Diesen, Jan Anders (2011) De polare ekspedisjonsfilmene, in Eva Bakøy and Tora Helseth (eds.), Den andre norske filmhistorien (p. 14-28).