Francis Frith British, 1822-1898
Francis Frith, best known for his views of Egypt and the Middle East, was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. A Quaker, he attended Ackworth School and Quaker Camp Hill School in Birmingham (about 1828-38), then apprenticed in a Sheffield cutlery house before working in a wholesale grocery business. He began photographing in 1850 and three years later helped to found the Liverpool Photographic Society.
In 1856 Frith embarked on an extensive tour of Egypt, traveling up the Nile from Cairo to Abu Simbel, and returning in July 1857. Inspired by this journey's success, that November he traveled again to Egypt and the Holy Land for about six months. During a third trip, in 1859-60, he voyaged up the Nile to the Sixth Cataract, farther than any photographer before him. These excursions were difficult; besides the desert heat, sand, and flies, the wet collodion process used by Frith meant traveling with numerous crates filled with cameras, chemicals, and darkroom equipment.
The firm of Frith & Co. was established at Reigate, Surrey, in 1860, becoming one of the most important publishers of European topographic and architectural views. It continued under the direction of his descendants for well over a century. Previously, Frith's large views had been published in London by Thomas Agnew & Sons, and James S. Virtue, and his stereographs by Negretti & Zambra. Frith's 1876 catalog included more than 4,000 views, and his works and travelogue were assembled into several albums, which sold well as souvenirs and to armchair travelers. Many of the photographs certainly were taken by operators working for him. However, a number of Frith's prints, especially his large glass plate views of Egypt and the Middle East, still astonish with their grandeur of vision. T.W.F.