Francis Frith stereoviews of Egypt

Francis Frith (1822-1898) was an English photographer who became famous for his photographs of Egypt and the Holy Land that he took on three trips. His photographs were also published as a collection of 8,5x17cm glass stereoviews.

Frith started his career as a wholesaler in the grocery business. He earned a fortune, allowing him to retire at the age of 34. He then focused on his passion for photography.

Francis Frith - 377 - The collossi of the plain, the celebra of Memnon at Thebe
377 – The collossi of the plain, the celebra of Memnon at Thebe

He made his first trip to Egypt in the fall of 1856. He sailed the River Nile from Cairo to Nubia (today’s Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan) and photographed the monuments of ancient Egypt. On his second trip in 1857/1858 he took photographs of Cairo and left for Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. His third trip began in 1859 and he visited the places from the first two travels to photograph missing sites and re-capture others.

Frith took three different cameras with him: a mammoth-plate (41 x 51,1 cm) and whole-plate (16,5 x 21,6 cm) camera and a stereo camera. He used the collodion photography process introduced in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer (1813-1857). This process replaced the daguerreotype process and made it possible to create negatives which could be used to reproduce images, which was not possible with daguerreotypes. The disadvantage of collodion was that the glass plates had to be made light-sensitive on the spot, then exposed in the camera and developed immediately. The glass plate had to remain more or less wet during the process. In the hot and dry climate of Egypt this was a great challenge, but Francis Frith succeeded and created a large number of negatives during his travels.

Karnak temple in Luxor by Francis Frith. A Whole-plate photo from 1857
Albumen print from the album Egypt and Palestine, published by James S. Virtue in 1858

The photos became extremely popular in England and were published in various formats. His work was sold as albums that could be compiled according to a subscriber system, single prints and a collection of stereoviews.

Negretti and Zambra

While still at work in Egypt, Francis Frith sent stereo glass plate negatives to publisher Negretti and Zambra in London. The publisher published 100 stereoviews on paper, followed later by exclusive glass stereoviews. A Negretti and Zambra catalog from 1859 lists the titles of 100 stereoviews numbered from 300 to 399. In 1862 the book Egypt, Nubia, and Ethiopia: illustrated by one hundred stereoscopic photographs [4] was published by Smith, Elder and Co. The book contained 100 mounted stereoviews that could be viewed with a book stereoscope.

Francis Frith - 342 - Hypaethral temple at Philae, usually called Pharoah's Bed
342 – Hypaethral temple at Philae, usually called “Pharoah’s Bed”
Paper label on the back

The glass stereoviews have a size of 8,5x17cm and consist of two glass layers. The glass plate with the albumen print is covered by a glass plate that’s painted on the inside with a black passe-partout of wide, flat-arched, double windows with single gold fillets. The back contains a paper strip with the number, title and a description of the image. Francis Frith scratched his name and a number on the negative and this information is visible on some of the stereoviews.

Francis Frith

Ferrier & Soulier

Ferrier & Soulier was a major publisher of exclusive glass stereoviews in the 1850s and 1860s. Most of their inventory was based on their own stereo photos, but they also published stereoviews from the glass negatives of other photographers. The enormous popularity of Francis Frith’s photographs of Egypt prompted the company to purchase a series of negatives in 1859.

Francis Frith - 2332 - Portail sculpté dans l'île de Philae
2332 – Portail sculpté dans l’île de Philae

The glass stereoviews of Egypt by Ferrier & Soulier were presented in the same way as Negretti and Zambra had done. The back contains a paper strip with the number, title and a description of the image, translated into French from the original English text. The original stereoviews by Negretti and Zambra were numbered 300 to 399. Ferrier & Soulier added the prefix 2, so the stereoview with number 368 appears in the Ferrier & Soulier catalog as 2368.

Francis Frith - Vue du Sphinx et de la grande pyramide à Gizeh, no 2
2388 – Vue du Sphinx et de la grande pyramide à Gizeh, no 2

Ferrier & Soulier created a new way to produce labels with descriptions in 1859. They were printed on thin, transparent, gelatine sheets in black ink and attached to a cleaned area on the emulsion side of the glass slide. The paper strips with descriptions on the back were no longer used [5].

References

  1. Francis Frith in Egypt and Palestine, A Victorian photographer abroad, D. R. Nickel, 2004
  2. Encyclopedia of nineteenth-century photography, J. Hannavy, 2008
  3. Descriptive Catalogue of Stereoscopes and Stereoscopic Views manufactured and published by Negretti and Zambra
  4. Egypt, Nubia, and Ethiopia : illustrated by one hundred stereoscopic photographs
  5. The Glass Stereoviews of Ferrier & Soulier 1852-1908, J. Schimmelman and J. Cameron