In 1903, at the height of the Northern gold rush, the Lomen family of Minnesota relocated to Nome, Alaska. Rather than pan for gold, they sought other commercial opportunities in the booming Alaskan economy.
Within a few years, the family owned a men’s clothing store, pharmacy, stationary store, shipping company, a local photography studio and the Lomen Reindeer Corporation.
The father, Gutbrand, acted as a local attorney as well as the Norwegian Vice Consul. One of his sons, Ralph, was the chief of police. His brother, Henry, acted as the photography studio’s manager while another Lomen boy, Alfred, was the primary photographer.
Rather than set up a new shop from scratch, the family purchased an already established photography studio. There they took studio portraits of residents and also sold souvenirs. The majority of souvenir images depicted either members of the indigenous Yupik Eskimo people or transient gold miners prospecting their claims.
In 1934, after three successful decades, the Lomen photography studio burned to the ground during the great Nome fire, destroying over 30,000 negatives and 50,000 prints. Only about 3,000 negatives were salvaged. Despite the enormous loss, the remaining negatives stand as invaluable primary document of Yupik customs and also of the the waves of prospectors seeking their fortunes.
Around the time of the fire, the family’s primary business, the Lomen Reindeer Corporation, collapsed after Congress mandated the return of all Alaskan reindeer herds to the control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
By 1940 the family had relocated to Seattle, Washington, eager for new commercial ventures in another growing economy.