Biography | Bibliography
Francis Frith became interested in photography sometime around 1850. While running a successful wholesale grocery firm, he and his partner Hayward opened a photographic studio in Liverpool. By 1855 Francis Frith devoted all of his time to photography and between the years of 1856 and 1860 he made three trips to the Middle East, the third being a 1,500 mile trip up the Nile. Frith photographed landscapes and scenic attractions in the Middle East, which were novel and very popular at the time, as well as views of Britain and Europe.
During his travels he noted that tourists were the main consumers of the views of Italy, but armchair travellers bought scenes from other parts of the world in the hope of obtaining a true record, “far beyond anything that is in the power of the most accomplished artist to transfer to his canvas.” These words express the ambitious goal that Frith set for himself when he departed on his first trip to the Nile Valley in 1856. He also made two other trips before 1860, extending his photo-taking to Palestine and Syria. In addition to photography, he also kept a journal during his travels elaborating on the difficulties of the trip, commenting on the “smothering little tent” and the collodion fizzing – boiling up over the glass. Frith also noticed the compositional problems regarding the point of view from the camera. According to Frith, “the difficulty of getting a view satisfactorily in the camera: foregrounds are especially perverse; distance too near or too far; the falling away of the ground; the intervention of some brick wall or other common object… Oh what pictures we would make if we could command our point of views.” An image he took known as the “Approach to Philae” is just one example which elaborates his ability to find refreshing photographic solutions to these problems. (cited from “A World History of Photography”)
In all, Francis Frith had over 100,000 travel images published in the form of books, sets of stereographs, portfolios and prints. Although Francis Frith had others publishing his work, upon his return from his third trip in the Middle East, he opened up his own publishing firm called F. Frith and Company. At the time it was the first and largest publishing firm in Britain and it is still remembered as one of the biggest publishing firms of picture postcards.
Although Francis Frith died in 1898, the firm did not close its doors until 1960. Francis Frith’s work can be found in The Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, and Victoria and Albert Museum in London among many others.
Francis Frith & Jane Reese Williams, Comparative photography : [a century of change in Egypt and Israel / photos, Carmel, Calif. : Friends of Photography, ca. 1979.
Bill Jay, Victorian cameraman; Francis Frith’s views of rural England, 1850-1898, Newton Abbot, David & Charles, 1973
Helen Livingston, Francis Frith’s around Dublin, Salisbury, Wiltshire : Frith Book Co., 1999.
Michael Kilburn, Francis Frith’s around Leicester, Salisbury, Wiltshire : Frith Book Co., 2000.