Francis Frith (Frances Frith) was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire on the 31st of October 1822. He attended Quaker schools before he started in the grocery business. In 1850 he started a photographic studio in Liverpool, known as Frith & Hayward.
Frith became a founding member of the Liverpool Photographic Society in 1853 and sold his companies in 1855 to dedicate himself entirely to photography. He journeyed to the Middle East on three occasions, the first of which was a trip to Egypt in 1856 with very large cameras (16″ x 20″). He used the wet plate collodion process, a major technical achievement in hot and dusty conditions.
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.”
When he had finished his travels in the Middle East in 1859, he opened the firm of Francis Frith & Co. in Reigate, Surrey, as the world’s first specialist photographic publisher. In 1860, he married Mary Ann Rosling (sister of Alfred Rosling, the first treasurer of the Photographic Society) and 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 and set about establishing his postcard company, a firm that became one of the largest photographic studios in the world. Within a few years, over two thousand shops throughout the United Kingdom were selling his postcards.
Frith died in Cannes, France at his villa on the 25th of February 1898.
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