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Norbert GHISOLAND was born on 17th March 1878 in La Bouverie, a village situated in a coal mining area of South West Belgium, called Le Borinage. Norbert’s father is himself a coal miner. He strives hard to assure his children a better fate than his own. He would like his elder son to become a photographer and therefore works hard to acquire the requested equipment. Unfortunately that son dies accidentally. Norbert, the younger son, who was initially to become a joiner, inherits the whole photography material. After three years of apprenticeship spent at Gallardé’s, a well-established photographer in Mons, the chief town of the province, Norbert himself finally becomes a photographer by trade.

In 1902 he settles down with his family in a house in Frameries, at only a stone’s throw from his birthplace. That is where he then opens a shop and a studio and soon starts using his large darkroom camera, working by natural light under a glass roof. Under his careful and tender eye a whole crowd of people file past the lens of Norbert’s camera, either as individuals or in groups. There are ten thousands of them: middle-class people, coal miners, military and clerical people, sportsmen, people of all age categories, and sometimes even dogs. Norbert decides himself on the postures, be it for full-size portraits or simple ID-card photos, getting all his models to pose either in a décor done in trompe-l’oeil or before a white backdrop and never failing to capture them with a most graceful touch. Norbert shows in his work a lot of tenderness and emotion towards all his models. These ones either sit or stand with their hands folded or with one hand simply resting on the shoulder of a friend or relative posing next to them, all models looking astonishingly serious. There is no trace of smile on their faces. Indeed they all come from Le Pays Noir, the local black colliery area. Throughout his 37 years of hard labour the artist from Frameries produces over 90,000 photographs on glass plates.

Tormented by the convulsive turmoils of pre-war times and deeply worried at the thought of his son being called up in the army Norbert GHISOLAND passes away on 2nd November 1939 at the age of 61, leaving behind a both unique and poignant testimony about

his contemporary fellow people of the coal mining era.

In 1945, after returning home from the war, Norbert’s son, Edmond Ghisoland, reopens the studio. And since the death of Edmond, in 1969, Marc, Norbert Ghisoland grandson continues working in that same studio.


1977 Norbert Ghisoland, photographies 1910-1930, published by
Jacques DAMASE, Paris.
1991 Norbert Ghisoland, Photo Poche n° 48, published by Robert DELPIRE / CNP, Paris.
1994 Norbert Ghisoland appears in the Nouvelle Histoire de la Photographie
published by Adam Biro/Bordas as well as in the Dictionnaire Mondial de la
Photographie published by Larousse, Paris.
2002 Norbert Ghisoland, fragments de vies ordinaires published by La Lettre volée,
2011 Norbert Ghisoland, published by Husson, Bruxelles.


1991 Retrospective « Norbert Ghisoland » at Centre National de la Photographie,
Palais de Tokyo, Paris.
1997 Ghisoland work is shown at the Museum of Contemporary Arts of Andros,
2002 « Du grenier au musée », « Fragments de vies ordinaires » et « Alter ego »,
three exhibitions around Norbert Ghisoland, Mons (Belgique).
2003 Ghisoland work is shown among the « Anthropologues involontaires »,
Hôtel de Sully, Paris.
2011 Retrospective « Norbert Ghisoland, photographe 1878-1939 »,
Botanique, Bruxelles.
2012 « Norbert Ghisoland, une vie de photographe » exhibitions at L’Imagerie
(Lannion), Stimultania (Strasbourg) and Differdange (Luxembourg).
2013 Twenty photographs of Norbert Ghisoland are shown at the 55th
International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia at the request of
its curators : Massimiliano GIONI and Cindy SHERMAN. LINK