Irene Mattsson was a photographer. She ran the Petterssons Foto business in Malung for several decades from the 1950s onwards. She developed techniques which enabled the restoration of ancient glass plates and she was the artistic editor for a series of local history books.
Irene Mattsson was born in Bergsjö in Hälsingland in 1915. Her father, Per Johan Pettersson, was the son of a scythe-maker originally from Älvdalen but who had then moved to Bergsjö. In 1909 her father married Ingri Maria Eriksson, who was the daughter of a bookbinder and a village-school teacher in Malung. Prior to getting married she had worked as a maid for upper-class families.
Per Johan Pettersson trained as a smith but increasingly became taken with the art of photography. He purchased photography equipment from Oslo and began to take pictures during the 1890s. By the time he was 24 years old he had already set up a studio at a farm in Bergsjö kyrkby. He also opened a branch in Gnarp. Following a fire Pettersson rapidly erected a new studio and home in Bergsjö, both of which were completed by 1905.
Irene Mattsson thus grew up within genuinely pioneering photographic surroundings. Her father travelled around the area taking pictures of Hälsingland’s churches. He was also an active member of associations, a newspaper contributor, he undertook research into local history, and he also gave lectures.
The family grew to comprise five children. Due to competition from rival photographers in the nearby town of Hudiksvall the family decided to leave Bergsjö in 1924 and to move to the mother’s home area of Malung. They brought all the photographic equipment with them and Per Johan Pettersson opened a new photography studio at Lisagatan in Malung. The Pettersson family also set up the printing house Malungs Accidenstryckeri, initially located in the same building as the photography studio. The printing business was then taken over by Göte Pettersson, the eldest son in the family. Irene Mattsson and her elder sister assisted in the bookbinding work and their mother helped out if there were pressing deadlines but was mainly responsible for running the large family household and cooking staff. As Malungs Accidenstryckeri, which had initially focused on printing smaller and shorter items, expanded to include bulky printing presses and vast bales of paper the enterprise moved to new premises in 1934, located in Södra Mon. In the 1950s the business was subsequently renamed Malungs Boktryckeri.
Irene Mattsson already knew she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps when she was at school. She kept up with his work using glass plates and she was also sent to the royal photographer Östling in Malung in order to learn more about the new innovation that was sheet film. During the 1930s the family photography studio in Malung was renovated and the backgrounds brought from Bergsjö depicting nature scenes were repainted in lighter single tone colours. Elegant furniture was swapped out for daises, cubes, and steps. Electric lighting was installed. A new photoshop thus emerged under the company name of Petterssons Foto and it proved a popular Sunday destination for Malung residents who would come in to get their photos taken. The shop windows displayed children wearing Malung traditional dress and pictures of local farms. Further, the company provided local leather companies with the photographs required for their advertising pamphlets.
Petterssons Foto expanded during the 1940s and in 1944 a photographer named Evert Mattsson was hired. Irene Mattsson married Evert in 1946 and their children, Inger, Åke, and Gunnar all ended up working in the photography business. Evert Mattsson ran study groups for amateur photographers and held exhibitions and competitions. In 1954 the company moved to new premises just opposite their old location on Lisagatan. As of 2020 the business was still being run by Gunnar Mattsson.
Irene Mattsson’s longest lasting contribution to society, further to running the photography business, was her use of older photographic techniques to restore images on damaged and ruined glass plates. She ran courses for photographers and museum staff across the country and her knowledge was compiled into a book entitled Bilden räddas. Tillvaratagande och restaurering av gamla glasplåtar och fotografier, published in 1979 and 1985 by Nordiska Museet. In one of the chapters Irene Mattsson recounts her experiences of being her father’s student, which forms a valuable document of the detailed work of a photographer whilst also showing the technological changes involved in moving from glass plates to rolls of film.
Irene Mattsson served as artistic editor for the major four-volume book project entitled Malung. Ur en sockens historia published between 1971–1977, and comprising 1,200 illustrations on 1,800 pages. Another four-volume set, entitled Lima och Transtrand. Ur två socknars historia and published 1981–1998, also made use of her image editing skills. In 1983 the publishing house Dalaförlaget, which emerged out of Malungs Boktryckeri, published Sjöändan. Ett fäbodställe i Västerdalarna, containing images from her family’s summer holidays in Lima.
In 2001 Irene Mattsson presented the book En sockenhistoria i bilder under 100 år. Genom tolv fotografer i Malung 1860–1960 which is an invaluable pictorial treasure. It presents a personal insight into a number of professional photographers working in their home town and provides a comprehensive pictorial history of Malung. Per Johan Pettersson and his hard-working family enriched that town close to the mountains by establishing photography and book production businesses in the mid–1920s and introducing skilled and engaged individuals into the area.
Irene Mattsson died in Malung in 2012.