Hjalmar Axel Bodom was born in Norway, around 1866. By the late 1890s, Hjalmar Bodom was living in the English county of Kent.
Towards the end of 1898, Hjalmar Bodom married Clara Alice Elizabeth Forster (born 1865, Isle of Sheppey, Sheerness, Kent) in the Medway district of Kent. Clara Forster, Hjalmar Bodom’s wife, was the daughter of Susan Elizabeth Kimber (born c1841, Sheppey) and Archibald Thomas Victor Forster (born c1841, Gravesend, Kent), an Engineer Officer in the Royal Navy.
Shortly after their marriage, Clara and Hjalmar Bodom were residing in Tunbridge Wells, where their daughter Marguerite Catherine Bodom was born during the Fourth Quarter of 1899.
When the 1901 census was taken, Hjalmar Bodom was living in Tonbridge, Kent with his wife Clara and their young daughter Greta (Marguerite). Hjalmar Bodom is described on the census return as an “Artist Photographer“, aged 35.
A 1903 street directory records Hjalmar A. Bodom at 30, Pembury Road, Tonbridge, Kent, but it appears that he moved to Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex in the same year.
Around April 1903, Hjalmar Bodom entered into partnership with a photographer named Hawley. Two photographers with the surname of Hawley are recorded in the 1901 census – Alfred Hawley (born c1867, New Zealand), a photographer living at Alderley Edge, near Chester, and Christopher Hawley (born c1867, Warwick), a photographer based in Devon. If it were one of these two, no records have been found to indicate which.
In 1903 the firm of Bodom & Hawley was operating a photographic studio at 3, Wilton Court, Bexhill. That same year, Hjalmar Bodom is listed in a local street directory at 11, Wickham Avenue, Bexhill.
It appears that the partnership between Bodom and Hawley ended around 1904.
Hjalmar Bodom’s photographic career in Bexhill-on-Sea was brief, lasting only a year or so. Kelly’s 1905 Directory of Sussex does not mention either Hjalmar Bodom or Hawley and no photographic studio is listed at Wilton Court or Wickham Avenue, in Bexhill-on-Sea.
In 1904, shortly after ending his involvement in the Bexhill photographic firm of Bodom & Hawley, the photographer Hjalmar Bodom entered into an agreement with George Michael, proprietor of the photographic company of Wilson and Co., to manage one of the firm’s studios at Singapore in South East Asia.
Wilson & Co., was one of the leading photographic firms in the Malaya Peninsula and had a number outlets in Singapore,
The firm had established a photographic studio in Barrack Road, Singapore, in the Straits Settlements in the early 1900s and, later, acquired the studio of G. R. Lambert & Co. at 17b Orchard Road, Singapore. In addition to studio portraits, the firm of Wilson & Co. also produced hundreds of photographic views of Singapore and Malaya in the popular postcard format.
After arriving in the Straits Settlements (either at the end of 1904 or during the early months of 1905), Hjalmar Bodom became the manager of one of Wilson & Co.’s photographic studios in Singapore. (There is a suggestion that Bodom operated from a photographer’s shop at the Hotel de l’Europe on Singapore’s Esplanade).
Initially, Hjalmar Bodom was required to operate the Wilson & Co. portrait studio for “seven days in the week”, but after 4 months he stopped working on Sundays. Bodom’s adoption of a six-day working week upset his employer, Mr. George Michael, the proprietor Wilson and Co.’s photographic studios. Mr Michael later complained that “through closing on Sundays, he (Bodom) had lost the custom of several ladies who had gone into a rival firm’s studio opposite“.
Relations between Hjalmar Bodom and his employer became strained, Bodom complaining that Wilson & Co. owed him wages and commission, plus the cost of a sea voyage between Europe and Singapore. The agreement between Hjalmar Bodom and Wilson & Co. came to an end after 4 years.
Towards the end of 1908, Hjalmar Bodom set off for Penang, an island off the north-west coast of Malaya, where he established his own photographic studio. Believing he had been badly treated by Wilson & Co., Hjalmar Bodom took legal action against his former employer, putting in a claim for $946.13, representing outstanding wages and unpaid commission, plus the cost of a second-class passage between Singapore and Europe.
During his testimony to the court in Singapore, Bodom remarked that, if he left Singapore and returned to Europe, he would have “no difficulty” in finding a situation as a photographer, adding “I can go tomorrow into a business in England where I had been before”.
Hjalmar Bodom was unsuccessful in his legal action against his former employer. Under the headline:-
“Failure of Claim Against Owner of Wilson and Co.”, The Straits Times reported on 11th March 1909, that Mr Justice Sercombe Smith reached the judgement that Bodom’s claim “failed on every point”, giving “a verdict for the defendant (Mr George Michael of Wilson and Co.), with costs”.
Photographer in Penang, Malaya
In 1908, Hjalmar Bodom had established a photographic portrait studio on Penang, an island situated off the north-west coast of the Malay Peninsula. It is reported that Bodom was the owner of a photographic studio at Northam House, 15 Northam Road, Penang.
In addition to studio portrait work, Hjalmar Bodom also took group portraits on location. An article in the Singapore Free Press published on 24th December 1913, reported on a “children’s Christmas party” held at England House, Penang, the residence of Mr and Mrs Robert Young. The children had been invited to attend the party in “fancy dress”. On arrival, the children who wore fancy dress costume were “grouped for a photograph, taken by Mr Bodom.”.
Hjalmar Bodom, like many other European photographers in the region, also produced a large number of picture postcards featuring local views. We know that H. Bodom published a series of postcards under the heading of “Views of Penang Island Straits Settlements” before the end of the First World War.
Photographer in Java
By 1920, Hjalmar Bodom had left Penang and had set up a photographic studio in the city of Bandoeng (Bandung) on the Dutch-controlled island of Java. On 9th October 1920, Hjalmar Bodom placed the following notice in The Sydney Morning Herald:
“PHOTOGRAPHY – Wanted, for Java, by English firm, first-class RETOUCHER, also good Bromide Printer. Commencing salaries 250 gulden (£21) per month. Letters, with full particulars, and specimens of own work, to H. BODOM, Bandoeng, Java.”
Hjalmar Bodom was based in the city of Bandoeng (Bandung) for the next 15 years or so. Surrounded by large tea plantations and blessed by a cooler climate, Bandoeng became a particularly popular resort for wealthy European planters and their families. Equipped with high-class hotels, cafes, restaurants, stylish shops, a ballroom and a theatre, Bandoeng attracted rich businessmen and ladies with private incomes searching for luxury goods and entertainment. The Dutch colonial government developed the city during the 1920s and by the early 1930s Bandoeng was known as “Parijs van Java” (The Paris of Java).
Hjalmar Bodom presumably ended his photographic career on the island of Java in the mid 1930s. In March 1935, Hjalmar Bodom put up for sale, “for cash”, his photographic studio in Bandoeng (Bandung), Java.
A newspaper advertisement published on 14th March 1935 stated, “the old established and well known Photographic Studio of H. Bodom” had been put up for sale because the “owner wishes to retire“. Apparently, Hjalmar Bodom did not make a quick sale as he listed as the proprietor of the “Kunst Atelier” (Art Studio) photographic studio at Naripanweg 3, Bandoeng (Bandung), Java in the “Bandoeng Telephone Directory”, published in January, 1936.