In 1856, the English photographer Francis Frith set out on the first of three tours of Egypt and the Holy Lands. Traveling up the Nile and then on to the Sinai, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon, Frith systematically crafted exquisite pictures of ruins, landscapes, and legendary sites. He then published his views in England and America in a variety of formats, becoming something of a celebrity in photographic circles. This book, the first to place Frith's Egyptian and Levantine images in cultural context, reveals the distinct meanings these ostensibly "topographic" pictures held for the photographer and his Victorian audience.
A Quaker by birth and an entrepreneur by nature, Frith brought to his photographic projects a sense of mission: to revive and confirm the stories of the Bible, while offering the region to armchair travelers as a seamless Oriental milieu of Romantic reverie. Francis Frith in Egypt and Palestine narrates the political, intellectual, and social concerns that make Frith representative of England's encounter with the East in the nineteenth century. Historian of photography Douglas R. Nickel brings a sophisticated interdisciplinary approach to bear on the subject in order to expose the complexity of Frith's image-making, setting the photographs against a Victorian backdrop of religious debate, imperialist thought, Romantic philosophy, and Pre-Raphaelite aesthetics.
"While considering the content of the pictures and the writing that accompanied many of them, Nickel discusses the social forces that surrounded and shaped Frith and his photography, such as his Quaker upbringing and the close relationship between science and religion in Victorian England. Exemplary documentation and well-written descriptions of Frith's photographic processes are also remarkable."--Library Journal
"Stating that Frith's photographs . . . would be better regarded if photographic history were taught as a history of ideas rather than a history of art practices or scientific discoveries, Nickel presents nearly 200 pages of carefully considered and well-written discussion about the cultural and intellectual backgrounds of Frith's time and their resonances within Frith's own life and in his 1850s photographs. . . . The reproductions are excellent and close to the originals."--Choice
"Nickel fully establishes a coherent and relevant context for an evaluation of Frith's life and work. A lucid narrative and studied selection of works anchor the volume."--Gareth Harris, The Art Newspaper
"This volume is a significant addition to scholarship of religious publishing and economic history that deserves faithful reading."--Candy Gunther Brown, Journal of Religion
"This work leads not only to a better understanding of Frith, but also to a new perspective on the intellectual and cultural history of nineteenth-century photographic practice."--Mary Warner Marien, author of Photography: A Culture History
"Situating the photographic works of Francis Frith within the context of his culture, particularly the religious crises and attendant debates in England at mid-nineteenth century, Nickel's book brings to light considerable primary material on Frith that is a significant contribution to the field of photographic history."--Julia Ballerini, contributor, Imag(in)ing Race and Place in Colonialist Photography and Film