Francis Frith

(1822 - 1898) British


Born in Chesterfield, England, Francis Frith apprenticed to a cutlery house and was a partner in a successful wholesale grocery business before he became interested in photography in the early 1850s. He co-founded the Liverpool Photographic Society in 1853, and three years later embarked on his first photographic excursion to Egypt, where he made pictures of ancient monuments. Frith overcame the adverse climatic conditions, producing his striking photographs in a portable wicker darkroom with wet-plate collodion on glass negatives and the albumen printing process. His striking images from this journey proved so popular that he was able to return to the Middle East twice during the next three years. Frith's journeys resulted in a total of nine publications, including Egypt and Palestine Photographed and Described by Francis Frith, a subscription series issued between 1858 and 1860, and Cairo, Sinai, Jerusalem, and the Pyramids of Egypt (1860). By 1859, Frith had earned enough to establish F. Frith & Co., which specialized in postcards of landscape and architectural views in Britain and the Middle East. After 1861, as he became more involved in the management of the company, Frith hired other photographers to provide views of Great Britain, Continental Europe, and the United States. F. Frith & Co. remained in business until 1968, long after his death.
Francis Frith was a successful entrepreneur and photographer whose topographical views responded to the high demand in the mid-nineteenth-century in England for pictorial evidence of Middle Eastern subjects. Although his use of three negative formats for each view--8 x 10, 16 x 20, and stereoscopic pairs--points to the commercial nature of his enterprise, those negatives also reveal his experimentation with exposure times and vantage points in order to discern the most pleasing composition for each site. Underscoring his comprehension of the artistic possibilities of photography were the many articles he wrote about the subject, in which he argued for the ability of photographs to communicate divine truth and aesthetic awareness to the general population.
Lisa Hostetler
Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 216.
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