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Francis Bedford, Photographer

Born in London in 1815, Francis Bedford was the first of church architect Francis Octavius Bedford's five children. His father inspired him to study art, architecture, and lithography. He was only 17 when his works were first exhibited at the Royal Academy. Considered as a bit of a recluse, scant details exist about Mr. Bedford's personal life beyond that he was married and had one son, William, born in 1846. Throughout the 1840s, several of his lithographs and architectural sketches, including those of the Anglican Church and Westminster Abbey, were exhibited at the Royal Academy.

For Mr. Bedford, 1851 was a watershed year because this is when he became acquainted with David Brewster's stereoscope during London's Great Exhibition. The stereoscope allowed photographers to create successive exposures either by using a single camera or two side-by-side cameras. By mid-decade, cameras fitted with twin lenses were being used to produce landscape stereographs. His text entitled The Treasury of Ornamental Art has been praised as "probably the first important English work where photography was called into play to assist the draughtsman." Rapidly emerging as London's most prominent landscape photographer, Mr. Brewster became a member of the London Photographic Society in 1857, the same year Queen Victoria commissioned Mr. Bedford to photograph her husband Prince Albert's hometown of Coburg, Germany. This was the first of several royal commissions, and his stereographs of England and Wales are widely regarded as some of the finest landscape works of their time.


The death of Prince Albert in 1861 was a severe blow to the royal family as well as to the English photographic community as he was the medium's most enthusiastic benefactor. His still-grieving eldest son Prince Albert (later King Edward VII) invited Mr. Bedford to photograph his extensive tour of Greece and the Middle East, one of the first such photographically documented excursions. Mr. Bedford's emphasis was clearly on photography as an art form, as evidenced by his various methods of image manipulation, such as painting out skies and replacing them with clouds, adding pencils and brushes to enhance fine detail, and using tissue paper as a way of darkening negatives to improve lighting. By 1878, however, Mr. Bedford was advocating simplicity, at least in terms of presentation. He eschewed elaborate matting and framing, arguing that "Each picture requires to be studied by itself."

Thought still active within the Council of the Photographic Society as Vice President until 1886, Mr. Bedford seemed content to relinquish control of his studio operations to his son William, a talented photographer in his own right with a style virtually indistinguishable from that of his father. However, William Bedford's sudden death from typhoid fever on January 13, 1893, was a shock from which the master photographer never recovered. Francis Bedford died the following year, on May 15, 1894, and was memorialized as one of the greatest English landscape photographers of the late nineteenth century, having set "the standard by which others should be judged." He was certainly one of the most prolific, having produced nearly 9,000 wet collodion negatives and albumen prints between 1851 and 1894. England's Central Library at Birmingham houses the extensive Francis Bedford archive, which includes 2,700 negatives and 2,000 paper prints.






Ref:
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 134-136.

2015 Four Months in the Middle East with the Prince of Wales, as Recorded by a Bedford (URL: http://chblm.blogspot.com/2015_02_01_archive.html).

2011 Francis Bedford, Landscape Photography and Nineteenth-Century British Culture by Stephanie Spencer (Surrey, UK: Ashgate Publishing Limited), pp. 1, 19.

2017 Francis Bedford and William Bedford (URL: https://vintagephotosjohnson.com/francis-bedford-and-william-bedford).

2008 The Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art edited by Gerald W. R. Ward (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press), p. 495.

1882 The Photographic Studios of Europe by Henry Baden Pritchard (London: Piper & Carter), pp. 9-14.

2014 Rare Photos of Edward VII's 1862 Visit to the Middle East Go on Display (URL: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2821672/Inside-royal-tour-happened-century-ago-Rare-photos-Edward-VII-s-1862-visit-Middle-East-display.html).


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