The collection of historical photographs numbers some 60 000 photographs from the polar regions and is unique in the sense that many different aspects of polar history are documented.
Norwegian polar explorers and scientists were quick to start using technical innovations, and the oldest photograph dates back to as early as 1872. Already in 1888, Fridtjof Nansen took a camera with him on his journey over the Greenland ice cap. The same year, Kodak had introduced a roll camera that could take 100 photographs, so the expedition avoided having to take a lot of heavy equipment with them.
The collection contains photographs from Norwegian and foreign polar expeditions to both the north and the south. Mapping was an important part of expeditions to unknown areas, and there are systematic sets of photographs from Svalbard, Greenland and Antarctica. Various kinds of research were carried out on many expeditions, and photographs in the library cover everything from geology to geophysics and oceanography. Economic activities in polar regions, like mining in Svalbard, sealing in the White Sea, whaling in the Southern Ocean, and hunting and trapping in Greenland and Svalbard are represented in the collection.