Niels Hakkerup captured Bemidji in the early years
Samples of his photography remain as a testimony to his art and his documentation of 44 years of life in Bemidji.
Editor’s Note: The Beltrami County Historical Society is partnering with the Pioneer on a series of monthly articles highlighting the history of the area . For more information about the Historical Society, visit www.beltramihistory.org .
When the village of Bemidji was just a few years old, a young photographer named Niels Hakkerup arrived on the scene. For over 40 years, he used his art to capture the people, the early businesses and organizations, and the daily goings-on in the Bemidji area and the Headwaters region.
Anders Niels Peter Larson Hakkerup immigrated from Denmark in 1898 when he was just 22 years old. He studied photography in Chicago; then, in 1899, served an apprenticeship in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Hakkerup married Anna Louise Thompson and the couple moved to Bemidji in 1902 when lumberjacks filled camps in the area, railroads were expanding their routes, and homesteaders were coming to northern Minnesota to claim land. He set up shop at 112 Third Street, then Bemidji’s main street, in the heart of the small but growing business district.
Before long he was a well-known member of the community, actively involved in several local organizations. His abbreviated signature “Hak” became familiar on early photographs of the community and its people.
Between 1902 and 1946, Hakkerup took thousands of photos that documented life in northern Minnesota -- various community events, local celebrations, parades, and gathering, logging camps, train wrecks, portraits of local settlers and Native Americans. During and after World War I, Hakkerup was a “documentation photographer,” taking pictures of draft registrations, of soldiers departing and returning from war, of funerals, and of volunteers working for the war effort.
He captured the history and landscape of the Bemidji area through his photography. Today, Hakkerup photos can be found at the Beltrami County History Center and Bemidji State University's American Indian Resource Center; but also at the Minnesota Historical Society, the National Anthropological Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian.
A true professional and artist, Hakkerup was a member of the National Photography Association and a charter member of the Minnesota Photography Association.
A fire in the darkroom of his Bemidji studio on August 12, 1908, was reported the following day in The Bemidji Daily Pioneer: “The fire, which was discovered about 8:30 last evening, destroyed practically everything of value in the photograph studio of N. L. Hakkerup, on Third street, entailing a loss of about $1,200, on which there was carried insurance amounting to about $345. Mr. Hakkerup is at loss to know how the fire started as it was evident that the flames originated in the dark room of the studio. The inflammable nature of the pictures, canvas, etc., in the interior of the studio was almost as powder to the flames and it was with the utmost difficulty that the fire department managed to get the best of the blaze. As it was, everything was destroyed that was of any value.”
In that same edition of the Pioneer, Hakkerup posted a note to his customers:
“Notice to Public: All parties who sat for pictures in my studio during the past two weeks or had photographs in the studio previous to the fire, are requested to call on me or correspond with me regarding same.”
The final sentence of the story about the fire attests to the photographer’s resilience and commitment to his customers and to his trade: “Mr. Hakkerup has leased a tent and is again ready for business with his old patrons.” But some things lost were irreplaceable.
Months after the fire, Hakkerup posted in The Bemidji Daily Pioneer: “I wish to buy a photograph taken by me in 1903 of Chief Bemidji and one taken in 1904 of Chief Bemidji and family.” (March 11, 1909)
He bought a new building on Third Street and shared space with S. T. Stewart, confectioner. In March 1916, The Bemidji Daily Pioneer reported that a robbery at the studio resulted in a loss of about $6 in cash. Hakkerup was relieved that the robbers had not taken his studio camera lens and other valuable equipment. In May 1926, a second fire resulted in minor water damage to the newer studio and to Stewart’s Confectionary as well as three adjacent buildings.
In spite of difficulties and setbacks, Hakkerup practiced his art in Bemidji for over four decades, proudly advertising his work as the highest quality in the area. While he was committed to the art of photography, he knew that portraits of individuals and memorable photos of weddings and families paid the bills. From his early days in Bemidji, he advertised: “Wedding and Baby Pictures … Prices Reasonable.” And in January 1922: “Pre-war prices on all photographic work” and “Two photographs of anybody's baby free to those who cannot afford to pay … All babies should be photographed.”
In 1942, he relocated once again to 406 Beltrami Avenue. Four years later, he sold his business and the building to Aza Cooper, a Russian immigrant and co-owner of Cooper Studio in Grand Forks, N.D.
The Hakkerups retired in San Diego, where Niels passed away at age 81. Samples of his photography remain as a testimony to his art and his documentation of 44 years of life in Bemidji.
Jon Quistgaard assisted with research on this story.