Haakon Bjornaas was born in Otter Tail County, Minnesota in 1884. His parents, Ole and Ingeborg Bjornaas, had established their farm near the future site of Underwood in 1872. Haakon was one of twelve children born to Ole and Ingeborg.
It is uncertain where Haakon received his training in photography. Photographs in the collection indicate that he may have taken a correspondence class. He began taking photographs around Underwood and the Phelps Mill, Minnesota area about 1906. He briefly had a studio in Clitherall, Minnesota but this venture was apparently unsuccessful. From 1908 to1920 he traveled and photographed sites in several Minnesota counties, as well as in parts of eastern North Dakota. Most of his travel was devoted, in his words, to “lots of post card work.” During part of 1910 he worked for the Fergus Falls, Minnesota photographer, W.T. Oxley, doing both studio portraits and travel work.
Much of Bjornaas’s later work was in the Rapid River area, near Baudette, Minnesota. He filed a homestead claim there in 1910, and for the next several years photographed many of the settlements and events in the northern counties. In 1911 and 1912, Bjornaas joined with some other photographers to form Riverside Studio. Bjornaas operated “a branch studio” in a tent in Rainy River, Ontario. After 1911, Bjornaas continued to make post cards and other photographs in the Lake of the Woods, Minnesota area. Since he seldom dated his work, however, it is uncertain how much longer he tried to make a living with his camera.
Very few photographs in Bjornaas’s collection were taken after 1915, indicating that he either saved no later work or that he gave up photography altogether. In December1936, Bjornaas sold his land on the Rapid River for $1090 to the United States government as part of the area’s Resettlement program. He then lived with two of his brothers in Pinewood, Minnesota in Beltrami County. Eventually he returned to the family farm in Underwood, where he died in 1949.
This is a major collection of 1100 photographic prints and 450 glass negatives. The collection includes numerous prints of communities and sites in Northwest Minnesota, including Baudette, Cook, Fergus Falls, Roosevelt, Tower, and White Earth. A number of prints of North Dakota communities were also in the collection. Also included is a DVD of the Bjornaas photograph collection.
*Glass Negatives (Held in Tan Cabinet) with numbers in parenthesis which indicate the corresponding print number of the negative.