Landscape photographer Francis Frith was born to Francis Sr. and Alice Frith on October 31, 1822 in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England. After receiving a Quaker education, Mr. Frith became a cutlery apprentice in Sheffield. However, he suffered a nervous collapse in 1843, which prevented him to from completing his apprenticeship. When he recovered, Mr. Frith spent two years traveling throughout Scotland and Wales before settling in the prosperous seaport of Liverpool, where he became a successful merchant. First, he and his partner started a successful transatlantic wholesale grocery business, and later, he opened his own printing business, which is when Mr. Frith began pursuing his interest in photography.
In 1850, Mr. Frith opened a photographic studio in Liverpool and became one of the founders of the Liverpool Photographic Society. The studio became so successful that Mr. Frith sold his other companies to focus on his career in photography full time. With the funds he received from the sale of his grocery and printing businesses, thirty-four year old Francis Frith embarked on upon a dream travel adventure to the two places he regarded as the most fascinating in the world - Egypt and Palestine.
He made three trips between 1856 and 1860. On the first, he sailed up the Nile to the Second Cataract, recording the main historic monuments from the Egyptian cities of Cairo to Abu Simbel. The pictures he made of the temple at Soleb are considered among Mr. Frith's most impressive technical achievements. On his second trip, he traveled through Palestine to travel through and photograph landmarks associated with the life of Jesus Christ. On the last leg of his expedition, Mr. Frith traveled south down the Nile River.
Mr. Frith traveled with three cameras - a regular studio camera that used 8x10" glass plates, a format camera that used 16x20" glass plates, and a third camera that had a dual lens that allowed him to make three-dimensional stereoscopic photographs. In addition, he insisted upon employing the more climate-challenging wet collodion process instead of using the paper-based calotype to produce superior landscape views. Mr. Frith's technical expertise and aesthetic perspectives elevated the artistic appeal of his Middle East photographs. Utilizing his printing experience and his marketing knowledge, Mr. Frith was able to exhibit his photographs, believed to be the first of their kind, to print dealers and journal subscribers. Furthermore, he published a series of breathtaking texts that featured his Middle East and Holy Land images, including Egypt and Palestine Photographed and Described by Francis Frith (1860) and a limited edition of The Queen's Bible (1862).
After his lengthy travels, Mr. Frith was ready to settle down, opening the Francis Frith & Co. photographic publishing business in Reigate, Surrey and marrying Mary Ann Rosling shortly thereafter. Mr. Frith then turned his lens to every town in the United Kingdom that had some type of historical significance. He established a postcard company to distribute these photographs, which evolved into one of the world’s largest photographic studios and led to a chain of more than 2,000 shops throughout the United Kingdom.
Mr. Frith spent his later years as a Quaker minister, turning over the business operations to his family. He died in Cannes, France on February 25, 1898, and the Frith family continued running the company he started until 1970. Six years’ later, business executive John Buck resurrected The Francis Frith Collection to distribute Mr. Frith's amazing photographs internationally and can be viewed on the Internet at http://www.francisfrith.co.uk.
1857 Public Domain photo - Wikimedia commons / Philadelphia Museum of Art
2008 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 558-562.
2001 Travellers in Egypt (London: Tauris Parke/I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.), pp. 168-178.
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