5. Photography

Before examining Friends' interest in photographic portraiture per se, it is necessary to explore further the extent of their contact with, and knowledge of, photography itself.

The earliest reference found (1) is in the journal of Barclay Fox, who was a friend of Robert Hunt (secretary to the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, and later to be a founder member of the Calotype Club). On the 20th November 1840 he noted:

 

Hunt to dinner. He has much simplified the mode of preparing the Daguerrotype [sic] & has made some curious experiments on the properties of the chemical & calorific rays in reference to vegetation. (2)

 

And the following April he recorded hearing 'An interesting lecture from Hunt. The effects of the spectrum on paper sensitive to light are curious.' (3) In 1842 he attended a lecture on galvanism, by Hunt, who described what appears to have been a form of infra-red photography—certainly the permanent recording of impressions in perfect darkness, Hunt's own researches demonstrating the agency to be heat, not light. (4)

There are other links with early photographers. John Dillwyn Llewelyn, though not himself a Quaker, came of Quaker stock and mixed in Quaker circles. (5) His uncle, Richard Dykes Alexander (6), was both a practising Quaker and an amateur photographer, many of whose images are still accessible at the County Record Office in Ipswich. Alexander was a banker, like his friend Joseph John Gurney (7). Given Gurney's extensive contacts within Quakerism, it seems permissible to speculate that he himself may have helped (though not necessarily intentionally) to spread knowledge of photography among British Quakers (8). Interestingly, there is a tantalising link, too, with the Quaker poet Bernard Barton, referred to above, who worked for 40 years at the Alexanders' bank. (9)

Francis Frith's position straddling the worlds of Quakerism and photography has been amply explored by Michael Wigg (10), and no attempt will be made to duplicate his efforts. But there is one source on the Frith/Rosling circle which Wigg appears to have overlooked, which merits a passing glance: Mary Jane Taylor's A Dear Memory (11). Taylor (12) was friendly with the Roslings in the 1850s. There is a particularly interesting passage in a letter, bearing date 3rd March 1854, in which she described attending the last Photographic Soirée, with enjoyment:

 

I have also been twice besides to inspect the photographs; if they are still exhibited and thou has not seen them, do go; they are well worth a visit. Some of the coloured portraits are like paintings on ivory, so exquisitely soft, and some of the stereoscopic portraits look like wax. The landscapes of some exhibitors are beautiful. Didst thou read in the 'Morning Chronicle' of a few weeks back the account of the Queen's visit to the rooms in Suffolk Street, Pall Mall, when Alfred Rosling and others conducted her about? She was much pleased, and has since had Mr. Fenton to Windsor to take the portraits of her children; Alfred Rosling showed them to one or two at the Soirée, but they were not for public exhibition, so we saw them in another room; they were in quite an unfinished state, but some of them looked nice; in one instance the Prince of Wales was dressed as a young Forester. (13)

In June 1860 she writes of preparations for Frith's wedding to Mary Ann Rosling, and notes that 'Frank Frith has returned home from his year in Egypt, having taken 400 photographs, I believe.' (14)

photo of Ann Alexander by Richard Dykes Alexander

Ann Alexander, by Richard Dykes Alexander; courtesy of Friends House Library

Overall, though, there are so many sources on which to draw, with any attempt at a thematic treatment rendered problematic by their cross-cutting nature, that for the remainder of this section on photography in general a narrative account in approximately chronological sequence will be employed. Fortunately, in the available material in The Friend and The British Friend there will probably be found a sufficient thread—or perhaps, in the way they circled round each other, a more appropriate metaphor might be the double helix.

Surprisingly, photography-related advertising appears in The Friend at a very early stage in its history. From March to June 1845 a firm of opticians, T. & R. Willats, of Cheapside (15), placed the following advertisement:

 

Photographic Manual, Nos. 1 & 2. Plain Directions for obtaining Photographic Pictures, by the Calotype and Energiatype processes. Price Sixpence.

No. 2. – Practical Hints on the Daguerreotype. Being simple Directions for obtaining Portraits, Views, Copies of Engravings and Drawings, Sketches of Machinery, &c., &c., by the Daguerreotype Process; including the latest Improvements in Fixing, Colouring, and Engraving the Pictures; with a Description of the various Apparatus, Illustrated by Engravings. Price 1s. (16)

By July the manual was into its second edition, and covered other processes including chrysotype, cyanotype and chromotype. The revised advertisement ran in July and August that year. (17)

In January 1847 an article appeared in the monthly magazine of the Friends' school at Croydon. Signed 'A.R.', the article on 'The Wonders of Modern Science' included a passage on photography. Interestingly, there is already the hint that Friends may find it acceptable for portraiture:

Another striking instance of the progress now making in science is the invention of the Daguerreotype. In this instrument the well known chemical effects of the rays of light on nitrate of silver are brought into operation, for the purpose of producing a portrait of an individual or a representation of a scene or a building, which, arising from an image of the actual object, must be most strictly correct. The portraits taken with this instrument are accordingly so strikingly faithful that it is rapidly coming into general use. (18)

 

This is the earliest reference to photography from any of the Quaker schools. However there are photographs of staff and pupils at Bootham School in York from the 1840s (19), quite possibly taken by William Pumphrey (20), and it is known that William S. Clark and others were awakening an interest in the subject at Bootham in the early fifties; and there was a further upswing in interest there in the middle sixties, under Henry Richardson Procter (21). Neither fully took root, owing, it seems, to the comparative difficulties of the wet-plate process. A Photographic Society was not to be successfully formed at Bootham till the mid 1880s. (22)

In 1849 William Lucas recorded in his diary going to see the daguerreotype likeness of Sir C. Napier, in Regent Street, immediately after visiting a panorama of Switzerland. This is the first recorded occasion when a Quaker saw a daguerreotype of anything other than a member of their own family. (23)

The Friend in 1851 carried advertisements for dioramas (24), as well as for J.C. Dennis, 'Optician, Astronomical, Philosophical and Optical Instrument Maker, among whose products were Calotype Cameras and Phantasmagoria Lanterns and Slides. (25)

In May 1852 The Friend included its first technical articles on photography, both being reproduced from the Athenaeum. The first, on 'Gutta Percha in photography', reported on demonstrations by a 'Mr Fry' at the Photographic club, of pictures on glass obtained by a combination of gutta percha and collodion, a preparation of 'extraordinary sensibility'. (26) The second gave very detailed instructions for a new albumen process for sensitizing glass plates. (27) With these articles one has the sense that the editors are testing the waters, for the degree of interest they attract. In fact this degree of technical coverage is rarely tackled again. (28)

photo of Bootham staff, 1848

Bootham staff, 1848

From May to October 1856 a Bristol optician and 'photographic artist', Charles F. Ravis, agent for Smith & Beck, London manufacturers of achromatic microscopes &c, advertised in The Friend his 'Stereoscopes and Stereoscopic Pictures, and Optical instruments generally' (29); as a photographer, he is discussed further below (see p. 91).

Francis Frith first features in The Friend, as a photographer, in December 1857, with an anonymous review of his 'Stereoscopic Views in Egypt, Nubia, &c.' Brimming over with enthusiasm, the reviewer pronounces them 'without fear of contradiction, the finest and most interesting pictures of their kind ever taken.' Equally, though, the reviewer shows familiarity with technical developments in photography, and takes it for granted that readers will be familiar with and 'admire' the 'photographic marvels' of the day. The author concludes, of the catalogue, that it would form 'a collection thoroughly worthy of a place in any drawing-room.' (30)

By the end of 1858 the publisher A.W. Bennett (31) was advertising in The Friend the patent 'Clairvoyant' stereoscope and collections of stereographs. Though the basic model was available for 10/6, it could be had, for a guinea, enhanced with gilt pillars, silk velvet, and mahogany case—hardly plain furnishing for a Quaker, but as noted above (p. 40), plainness was approaching the end of its shelf-life. (32)

In May of 1858 The Friend reported that, after a lecture at Friends' Library in White Hart Court, Joseph Beck had exhibited photographic views of the Holy Land. (33) In the same month The British Friend, in a review of Dillwyn's Gathered Fragments, noted that the publication included two 'unexceptionable photographic illustrations'; the choice of wording is interesting as both acknowledging that some photographic illustrations might be exceptionable (the stance one would expect from this periodical), and conceding that not all were. (34)

In January 1859 Francis Frith gave what was described as an 'unusually interesting lecture' at Friends' Library, on Egypt, Syria & Palestine, his scenes on the Nile being 'illustrated by his own beautiful stereoscopic photographs, which were placed in a magic lantern, and the picture thus thrown onto a white sheet within view of the whole company, by which means every detail was shewn with wonderful accuracy and distinctness.' Interestingly, Frith aired for this audience the views he published that year (35) on the potential for harshness shown by photography, by possessing too much truthfulness. The anonymous reviewer for The Friend exalted Frith to a position among photographers 'second, we believe, to none in the country', and noted that the lecture had attracted 'one of the largest and best audiences we have ever seen in these rooms.' (36)

In June of that year were published three sets of six stereoscopic views of Ackworth school, the Flounders Institute (37), and parts of Ackworth village. It is not clear where these originated, although the school itself seems a likely source. Two different booksellers advertised the stereo sets for sale. (38) Stereoscopic photography was evidently becoming of considerable interest, as later that year Alfred Bennett was advertising others series, on English, Continental and American scenery; he was still also promoting Swan's 'Clairvoyant.' (39)

It is at this time, too, that we first encounter evidence of the use to which such images were put. Joseph Buckley (40) wrote in a letter to his daughter how he and his host had 'spent the evening in reading, conversation, and looking at a numerous collection of Cornish and other photographs, also views in Devonshire, some of them beautiful places. The very pictures made me feel I should much like to see the reality.' (41) And the literary Friend, Mary Howitt (who, with her husband, William, were friends with Alfred Bennett (42)), in a piece of travel writing published in the Eclectic Review, toyed with the idea of reversing convention and presenting scenes from an excursion as comparable to photographs; for Mary Howitt, 'Sun-Pictures, as secured by the photographic art, are amongst the most beautiful and interesting discoveries of the present day.' (43)

In 1861 photography begins to attract brief coverage in every issue of The Friend, in a column headed 'Scientific Notes,' initially attributed to William Tallack, though later contributors are often anonymous or give the initials 'R.J.F.' or 'R.J.E.' In a column packed densely with photographic news in January Tallack notes that photography 'continues to extend its practical applications;' he reports on the plans of Colnaghi & Co. to publish a photographic historic gallery; notes a new method for taking gigantic photographs, developed in France, which allows for life-size portraits; flags up the possibility of photography by artificial light derived from thin magnesium wire; and reports that 'Photographic visiting cards are becoming increasingly used in this country, having been previously common in America, where they are said to be produced at the rate of twenty for a dollar.' (44)

In February Tallack notes a new type of negative produced in Vienna, reducing exposure times; and progress being made in photographing onto wood. (45) In March the superiority of French negative paper is shown to be from their use of starch instead of animal size; and James Clark Maxwell's new theory of the three primary colours is announced. (46) In April the columnist recommends the new edition of Hardwick's Photographic Chemistry, noting that 'The season is now getting so advanced, that our friends who practise Photography will begin to look up their apparatus with a view to making a beginning for the year.' This is a real indication that Friends were actively engaged in amateur photography. (47) R.J.F. recommends the trial of a new process for preserving the sensitivity of collodion plates, as well as perseverance with stereo photography onto albumenised glass plates, as so successfully achieved by Ferrier & Soulier of Paris; and the successful taking of photographs by electric light is reported. (48) In May a process for transferring photographs onto glass is announced; the writer notes

 

Fixed in the sashes of a library, these ornaments would give a great repose, and exclude external sights; and, judiciously selected by the inhabitant, might fully sustain the character of the apartment, by presenting views of famous locations or portraits of famous men. What an imperishable gallery of friends' likenesses might not a man gather upon his window-panes! (49)

One is reminded of Amelia Opie and her prisms (p. 26).

In May 1861 Alfred Bennett inserted a substantial display advertisement (50) for his Stereoscopic Scenes, Card Portraits, and Portrait Albums—wholesale and retail. (51) In the following issue W. Wood of Liverpool was also advertising stereoscopes and stereographs. (52)

R.J.E.'s column in June 1861 takes up most of a page with a back-to-basics review of 'What is a photograph?', describing the daguerreotype, calotype, waxed paper and other processes. (53)

The April issue of the following year carried a report from the Birmingham Friends' Reading Society, of an exhibition of artistic work by local young Friends, which included a large number of photographs: 'The beautiful foreign photographs and transparencies brought prominently before the eyes of the visitors, the rapid progress that photography and art-manufacture have made on the continent in the last few years . . .'. (54) The 'Scientific Notes' column, in May 1862, reported on a life-size photographic portrait of the Prince of Wales having been taken at Munich by Herr Albert. (55) In the December issue there was a long report of a lecture on photography given the previous month by Edward Smith of Sheffield at the Friends' Institute (56)). The lecture was copiously illustrated, and drew heavily on Frith's photos of Egypt. Smith described the advantages and disadvantages of photography, and outlined some of its utilitarian applications, noting among other things its increasing use by the police for photographing criminals, and for illustration in courtrooms, to obviate the trouble and cost of visits to the scenes of crimes. (57) Smith's concluding observations are given almost verbatim by the reporter, as especially worthy of notice by readers, and they are also directly of interest here:

 

. . . should any one . . . call in question the propriety of our thus endeavouring to gather information on subjects that are not of a decidedly religious character, I must demur to his conclusions. It is no part of our compact as a religious community, to withdraw ourselves from the active walks of life, nor to live in wilful ignorance of useful things with which we have to do from day to day. (58)

The same issue of The Friend published a half-page advertisement for photographic materials, including for the first time photograph albums and a growing series of published cartes de visite of Friends (see below). (59)

photocopy of advert for photographic materials

At a date no later than 1862, Louisa Pease wrote a 'Fragment', published among selections from her private memoranda that year, entitled 'Whether we take photographs'. In this she concludes that photography is a recreation, and that recreations are perfectly acceptable, provided too much attention is not given to them: 'God's glory is not abused so long as the right spirit is prevailing.' Additionally, as we can please others by our recreations, this can contribute to 'loving our neighbour as ourselves.' (60)

The Friend's 'Scientific Notes' in March 1863 included a paragraph on the application of photography to popular instruction. (61) Even The British Friend, in June that year, noted The Book of Photography in its list of publications received. (62) The Friend's column, now renamed 'Scientific and Natural History Notes', reported in July 1864—following an article in the American Journal of Photography—on the new technique for obtaining photographic portraits in direct sunlight, by the interposition of a medium of pure blue. (63) The following month The British Friend—showing the extent to which photography was by now accepted even here—carried a report from the Science Section of the Dublin Friends' Institute, on an recent excursion. It related how

 

Two or three of the visitors occupied themselves during the day in taking photographs of the more interesting ruins, as well as some beautiful views along the river. An occasional glance at some of these on the study wall or in the portfolio, will recall to memory scenes and occurrences of a pleasant and profitable day, such as it is not the privilege of many frequently to enjoy. (64)

In the November issue of The Friend the editors drew attention to newly published photographs by W. Runicles, of Jordan's meeting house, observing that 'we have pleasure in stating that we can cordially recommend them as well-executed productions of what should be to Friends very interesting objects. (65)

In February 1865 The Friend's 'Scientific and Natural History Notes' reported on a new collodion process that replaced silver with a 'double salt of uranium', images made by which were 'absolutely permanent.' (66) The British Friend of November that year included a paragraph (67) headed 'Wonders of Photography', on the achievements of microphotography. (68)

A final incursion to note, from the wider world of photographic history in the 1860s, is the following curious small advertisement from The Friend of August 1869:

 

A Photographer, Felix Bonfils, of Beyrout, who has been in Syria for about two years, informs A.L. Fox, Falmouth, that he is the possessor of a fine collection of 600 to 700 Photographs of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Greece; size 80 centimetres by 30. He wishes to receive an offer for the entire collection. (69)


 

1. This is not to disregard the evidence for Thomas Young's involvement with Wedgwood and Herschel, which is, however, largely circumstantial.

2. Brett, ed. (1979): 213.

3. ibid.: 227.

4. Brett, ed. (1979): 294-5.

5. Morris (1999).

6. 1788-1865.

7. It is on record, for example, that Gurney signed the total abstinence pledge at Alexander's house. Braithwaite, ed. (1854): II.383.

8. No direct evidence for this has been found, beyond a single use by Gurney of the concept of the magic lantern, as a metaphor (Braithwaite, op. cit.: II:501).

9. Verrall (1893): 27.

10. Wigg (1995, 1997 & 1998).

11. Published in 1914.

12. Who incidentally—in the Quaker way of everyone seeming to be related to everyone else—was a close relation [niece?] of the Samuel Lucas referred to above.

13. Taylor (1914): 126.

14. ibid.: 177. There is also an interesting story recounted by Edwin Waterhouse, which has apparently not been noted before: 'In carriages my father had his particular taste. A large roomy vehicle for station and monthly meeting use was designed for him by Bristol carriage builders. . . . When we were about to leave Sneyd Park [1855], we made the acquaintance of Frank Firth [sic], the photographer of Egyptian temples and scenery, and photography being then in its infancy, he was struck with this carriage, as being just the thing he required in his travels as a place in which to 'develop' his photographs. It accordingly became his property, and was filled with yellow glass windows, and shelves etc. for the apparatus needed.'—Jones (1988): 60.

15. The 1881 census shows Richard Willats as a 61-year-old Optician's assistant and chemist, of Hackney (PRO RG 11/309).

16. The Friend III.27:71, 28:95, 30:152, 31:175.

17. ibid.: III.31:175, 32.198:200.

18. Croydon School Monthly Magazine (1847): 67. The first professional photographic studio in Europe had been opened in London by Richard Beard in 1841, and within a matter of months studios were opened in Plymouth, Bristol, Cheltenham, Liverpool, Nottingham, Southampton, Brighton, Norwich, Hull and Oxford (Gernsheim 1982: 106, 125-26, 130, 182, 245).

19. See illustrations on p. 73

20. Of whom more later—see p. 90.

21. 1848-1927; later England's first professor of tanning. OYSA (1935); Procter appears in the 1881 census as a tanner (leather) in Tynemouth (PRO RG 11/5082).

22. Pollard, ed. (1926): 126.

23. Bryant & Baker, eds (1934): II.428.

24. 'The Overland Mail to India', 'Our Native Land', and R. Marshall's 'Great Diorama of the Cities and Scenery of Europe'

25. The Friend, IX.97-104, advertisement sheets.

26. The Friend, X.113:98. 'Mr Fry' could have been the Quaker Samuel Fry, of whom more later; but there were certainly other photographers of the name—notably Clarence Fry (partner in the prominent studio of Elliott & Fry)—not known to have been connected with the Society of Friends. [2007-05-02: In fact Clarence Edmund Fry was a Friend. See www.photohistory-sussex.co.uk/BTNFryWAH.htm].

27. loc. cit.

28. The next occasion on which The Friend comes close to a photographic article is also its last of the 1850s. In a short piece entitled 'Lightning Daguerreotype', published in August 1854, it relates an extraordinary tale of a man struck dead by lightning in 1736, with the image of a pine tree delineated in colour on his chest, the lightning having struck through the tree.—The Friend XII.140:144, August 1854.

29. The Friend XIV.161:96, 162:115, 163:136, 165:174, 166:194, May-Oct 1856.

30. The Friend XV.180:224, Dec 1857.

31. Now also, more than coincidentally, editor of The Friend, as he was to remain until 1861. The Friend eds (1943).

32. The Friend XVI.192:229, Dec 1858.

33. The Friend XVI.185:82, May 1858.

34. The British Friend XVI:135, May 1858.

35. In 'The Art of Photography'.

36. The Friend XVII.193:6-7, Jan 1859.

37. A Quaker teacher's training college.

38. The Friend XVII.198:118, June 1859; seven more photographic views of Ackworth were also advertised for sale in the issue of May 1863 (29:120).

39. The Friend XVII.201:174, 203:212, Sept & Nov. 1859.

40. Who was a convinced Friend, having joined the Society in 1829.

41. B., H., ed. (1874): 330.

42. Entry for Mary Howitt in Dictionary of Quaker Biography.

43. Howitt (1859): 770.

44. The Friend, N.S. I:10-11, Jan 1861. The carte de visite craze would peak by 1864, but at its height it is estimated that three to four hundred million cartes were sold annually in England (Linkman 1993: 73, Gernsheim 1988: 201.

45. ibid.: I:36, Feb 1861.

46. The Friend I:66, Mar 1861.

47. There are other scattered references in the literature: the Epping naturalist Henry Doubleday, for instance, was an early experimenter, and is said to have attempted the photography of insects (Mays 1978: 87).

48. The Friend I:101, Apr 1861.

49. The Friend I:133-4, May 1861.

50. Roughly ¾ page.

51. The Friend I: advertisement p. 8, May 1861.

52. The Friend I:192, June 1861.

53. The Friend, 7:162, June 1861.

54. The Friend, 15:53, Apr 1862.

55. The Friend, 16:96, May 1862.

56. Probably this was the Edward Smith, 1800-68, who owned an iron & steel rolling mill in Sheffield, and was an elder of his meeting.—Annual Monitor, 1869.

57. The lecturer—perhaps as an industrialist himself—seems to have been especially excited by commercial possibilities of the new process of photo-lithography invented by Herr Burchard.

58. The Friend 24:289-90, Dec 1862.

59. The Friend 24:310, Dec 1862.

60. Pease (1862): 34.

61. The Friend 27:67, Mar 1863.

62. The British Friend XXI:155, June 1863.

63. The Friend 43:163, July 1864.

64. The British Friend XXII:194-5, Aug 1864. One of these amateurs may have been T.N. Harvey, who describes an accident with his photographic apparatus in 1868, in his Autobiography:74-75.

65. The Friend 47:5, Nov 1864; Runicles was still working as a photographer at the time of the 1881 census, but his connection with Quakerism is not established (PRO RG 11/1458); Mathews (1974): 132.

66. The Friend 50:39, Feb 1865.

67. Reprinted from the Athenaeum.

68. The British Friend XXIII:263, Nov 1865.

69. The Friend 104:200, Aug 1869.

 


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