b. 7 October 1822;
d. 25 February 1898
If, in a public house, one were to see photographs of towns and villages of long ago, it is very likely that they will be by Francis Frith. Frith started in the cutlery business, abandoning this in 1850 to becoming a traveling photographer. He journeyed to the Middle East on three occasions, bearing with him very large cameras (16″ x 20″), using the collodion process, which was a major achievement in such hot and dusty conditions.
He faced considerable problems on his journeys in such a hot climate. On several occasions the collodion boiled on hitting the glass plates. It is said that on one occasion he was sleeping in a tomb at the foot of the Great Pyramid, he had to fight off a pack of hungry dogs “to the very point of exhaustion.”
The Times, reporting on his pictures, commented that they
“Carry us far beyond anything that is in the power of the most accomplished artist to transfer to his canvas.” The picture shown here shows part of the temple at Luxor, photographed in the 1870s.
Frith’s most famous work was yet to come. When he had finished his travels in the Middle East in 1860 he married, settled in Reigate, Surrey, and then embarked upon a colossal project – to photograph every town and village in the United Kingdom, in particular notable historical or interesting sights. Initially he took the photographs himself, but as success came, he hired people to help him.
Frith then set about establishing a postcard company, a firm which became one of the largest photographic ones in the world; soon over two thousand shops throughout the land were selling his postcards.
I suppose it could be said that Frith was predominantly a traveler, and this comes out in his photographs. Rather than providing a stark geographical description, he sought to show what it was like to be there, on the spot. This is why his photographs still remain popular.