Peter Wickens Fry was born in the English village of Compton Bishop in 1795, one of five children born to Peter and Joanna Chapman Fry. An attorney by trade, he is believed to be one of the earliest practitioners of photography, apparently dabbling in photographic drawings prior to William Fox Talbot's invention of the calotype. He was recognized for his daguerreotypist efforts with a membership into the Society of Arts in 1845. Within two years, he founded the Calotype Club (later known as the Photographic Club), holding monthly informal meetings with friends and colleagues at his house, in which Talbot's techniques along with the latest process innovations would be discussed and technical knowledge would be shared. By 1848, the field of photography had grown far beyond the calotype, necessitating a name change to the Royal Photographic Club. Five years' later, Mr. Fry became one of the founding members of London's Royal Photographic Society, along with fellow photographers Roger Fenton and Frederick Scott Archer.
In the early 1850s, Mr. Fry and Mr. Archer engaged in a series of wet collodion experiments, resulting in the ambrotype process. Ambrotype, a derivative of the Ancient Greek term for "immortal expression", was an inexpensive method of generating a positive image onto a glass plate by applying the wet collodion technique. The team's ambrotype collaboration was included in an 1851 London exhibition organized by photographic equipment dealers Fallon Horne and William Henry Thornthwaite. It soon exceeded the daguerreotype in popularity, but its dominance was brief after being overtaken by the tintype. But Mr. Fry made the most of his newfound industry notoriety, traveling to Italy to take wet collodion photos, and displaying his works (both architectural and portraiture) in several exhibitions throughout the mid-1850s. His photographic acquaintanceship grew to include John Dillwyn Llewellyn and artist George Cruikshank, who immortalized him in a famous caricature. When Mr. Talbot's patent rights became a subject of litigation, Mr. Fry led the challenge in the case of Talbot v. Laroche that was responsible for overturning the patent in 1854. He was also a successful defense attorney in the calotype patent infringement case of Talbot v. Henderson.
Though a highly successful solicitor, photography remained Mr. Fry's true passion for the remainder of his life. He remained active in several photographic clubs and organizations until illness forced him into retirement. Peter Wickens Fry died at his London residence, 14 Montague Street, on August 29, 1860 (although some sources list his date of death as August 27, 1860). Many of his photographs are currently the property of London's Victoria and Albert Museum. The Cruikshank caricature is presently housed in the National Gallery of Canada.
2012 Catchers of the Light by Stefan Hughes (Paphos, Cyprus: ArtDeCiel Publishing), p. 62.
2008 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 563.
2016 Group Portrait of Three Unknown Boys 1850-60 (URL: https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/2143889/group-portrait-of-three-unknown-boys).
2007 Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 by Roger Taylor (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art), p. 317.
Portrait of Peter Wickens Fry, 19 December 1851, Printed Posthumously c. 1920 (URL: http://www.gallery.ca/en/see/collections/artwork.php?mkey=33784).
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