Otto Wegener was born in the southern Swedish town of Helsingborgs in 1849. The Swedish photographer Hanna Forthmeijer (1827-1914) established the city’s first permanent studio in Otto’s parents’ home in the mid-1860s. (Cf. a local advertisement for this first studio of Helsingborgs published in 1867, the same year the young man left for Paris reproduced in Helsingborgs stadslexikon).
Because he had joined the Commune under the Garde Nationale uniform, Otto went in exile to London where his three sons were born]. He came back after 1875.
Nothing is known about his introduction to photography; all we know is that he opened his magnificient studio at the fashionable address 3, Place de la Madeleine in 1883, successfully competing with Nadar and Reutlinger for the elite audience.
Marcel Proust frequented Otto’s studio.
He also brought his favourite ladies from the nobility to Otto’s studio. Celebrated as the supreme beauty of her day, Countess Elisabeth Greffulhe (1860-1952) was the triumph of Parisian society when Marcel Proust made her acquaintance in 1892.
Proust pursued her with requests for a photograph, which she staunchly refused. Nonetheless, the countess would inspire Proust’s fiction, becoming a prototype for the glamorous Duchesse de Guermantes in A la recherche du temps perd (1913-27).
Wegener had then already simplified his name to OTTO, a signature that shined in gold above the sixth floor on the building. He maintained contacts with the Swedish colony of artists and the writer August Strindberg dined in his house in 1894. The writers Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Victoria Benedictsson as well as the painter Albert Edelfelt are among the Scandinavians who had their photographs taken by Otto.