FRANCIS BEDFORD (1816-1894)
Francis Bedford was from an upper middle class professional family. His social status as a gentleman in Victorian England defined the range of opportunities available to him, and along with his undoubted talent and drive, structured the expansion and development of his career. Bedford, born in 1816, was the first son of the noted architect Francis Octavius Bedford, and he studied both architecture and lithography as a young man. He exhibited a drawing or painting of some architectural feature, such as “New Church at Turnstall,” (1833), “In Westminster Abbey,” (1846), ”Canterbury Cathedral,” (1847) “Magdalen Tower, Oxford,” (1848), “York Minster,” (1849), etc., in the annual exhibitions of the the Royal Academy at least nine times between 1833 and 1849. By the 1850s he had established himself as a lithographer skilled in illustrating books specializing in architectural subjects and he became widely regarded as a master in the chromo lithographic process. Bedford began to photograph as an amateur sometime around 1852, with the intent to aid himself in his lithographic work. His book, The Treasury of Ornamental Art, has been described as “probably the first important English work where photography was called into play to assist the draughtsman.”
But Bedford also began to pursue the creative aspects of photography as well.
The 1850s was a period of enormous growth for photography in England. Frederick Scott Archer had just perfected the wet-collodion process and photography, though still difficult to use, suddenly became both more accessible and far more useful in a wide variety of ways. Archaeologists, anthropologists, botanists, geologists, art and architectural historians, scientists and learned men of every stripe were realizing that photography not only facilitated their studies, but that accurate, exact, and exactly duplicatable visual records made it possible to expand the dimensions of their respective disciplines beyond levels impossible to reach before photography’s invention. Much of the leading research in chemistry and physics was being done by photographic scientists. Thus even conservative minds that could not decide whether photography was an art or merely a craft had to acknowledge that it certainly was a useful tool in the spread or diffusion of “useful knowledge” throughout the country, and agree in the role, both physically and metaphorically, that photographs played in support of the aims and needs of that generation.
The Great Industrial Exhibition held at the Crystal Palace in 1851, though considered a huge success, seems to have triggered a perception in England that it was in danger of losing its preeminent position as the greatest industrialized nation in the world. Driven by Prince Albert, and through the venue of the newly formed Society of Arts, a massive effort to improve the scientific, industrial, and artistic knowledge of the citizenry of Great Britain was launched in the 1850s. The Royal Society of London formed the armature that tied the local and regional organizations to a centralized national level institution that could provide communications and other links across the existing divisions of class, education and culture. The Society offered organizational guidelines, provided discounts for book purchases for club libraries, provided knowledgeable lecturers on a wide range of topics, and toured traveling exhibitions useful for publicity and fund-raising projects.
Photography, widely described as one of the keystone scientific/artistic inventions that defined the modern age, provided one very powerful tool in this program. The medium, combining attributes of both art and science, still held an undeniable glamour, and was one of the most accessible and approachable of the new technological marvels. And photography played an extremely important early role in the activities of this new Society and in its educational mission. The Society sponsored the first hugely publicized and highly popular photographic exhibition in England. And the Society then became the parent organization for the Photographic Society (later called the Royal Photographic Society). The Photographic Society’s first exhibition displayed 1500 prints by many photographers; and this exhibition became a popular annual event. In addition to the large annual exhibitions in London the Society of Arts also organized exhibitions of several hundred photographs which it traveled to many of the organizations of the Union, which, in turn, used these as a catalyst to organize lectures, or for fundraising soirees and fetes for the scores of Mechanic’s institutions and other adult educational organizations around Great Britain –and occasionally around the world.
Prince Albert and Queen Victoria played a leading role in supporting England’s arts, sciences and manufactures with their patronage and they supported the fledgling art/science of photography by purchasing creative photographs for their extensive art collections, by lending their public support to the newly formed Photographic Society, and by allowing access for selected photographers to their public lives. Francis Bedford learned the wet plate process in the early 1850s and then used it throughout his entire career, well after various dry plate processes were available to photographers. In 1854 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert commissioned Bedford to photograph art objects in the Royal Collection, an extensive task that Bedford performed admirably. Bedford exhibited some of these prints in the first exhibition of the Photographic Society, held in 1854. Bedford, who had taken up photography as a tool for accurate rendering of objects, soon began to investigate its creative aspects, and this led him to taking landscape views. In the second exhibition in 1855, Bedford exhibited “many views from Yorkshire, bright and sparkling bits most of them, which we are only sorry to find so small.” This was followed by “The Choir, Canterbury Cathedral,” in the 1856 exhibition; and then by many well-regarded architectural and landscape views almost every year for the next thirty-odd years.
Queen Victoria purchased several of Bedford’s photographic landscapes from the Photographic Society exhibitions. Then in 1857 the Queen commissioned Bedford to secretly travel as her agent to Prince Albert’s birthplace in Coburg, Bavaria, to make a group of some sixty views as a surprise birthday present for the Prince Consort. Documents make it clear that Bedford was treated throughout this event as a favored guest of the most powerful monarch in the world and not as commercial tradesman performing a task. At this time Bedford also photographed the important “Art Treasures Exhibition” in Manchester to provide sources for his chromolithograph illustrations for Treasures of the United Kingdom, published in 1858. This entire project had been fostered by Prince Albert as part of his ongoing support for contemporary arts and crafts practice in England.
By 1857 Bedford began to be mentioned by various critics as one of the premier landscape photographers in England, a reputation he maintained throughout his lifetime. In 1859 Bedford traveled through North Wales making landscape photographs and stereo views, which he released commercially in the spring of 1860 through the publisher Catherall and Prichard, of Chester. “…The series of the latter is large, and comprehends a considerable number of the leading objects which excite the wonder and admiration of tourists, and have been the special delights of artists time out of mind. The photographs are of good size, and it is scarcely requisite to say, are of the highest possible merit,— the name of Mr. Bedford will sufficiently guarantee their excellence. …The stereoscopic views are certainly among the best that have been produced, supplying a rich intellectual feast: to us they have given enjoyment of the rarest character—and so they may to our readers, for they are attainable at small cost. We name them at random, but they are all of famous places—Pont Aberglaslyn, Capel Curig, Llyn Ogwen, Bettys-y-coed, Beddgelert, Pont-y-gilli, Trefriew, Llanberis, Pen Llyn, with views also of the Britannia Bridge, Carnarvon Castle, &c.” (Art Journal, Apr. 1860). Bedford continued making views throughout the British Isles into the early 1860s.
In 1862 Bedford’s strong position with the Royal Family was demonstrated again when he was “one of only eight gentlemen” invited to join the Prince of Wales (the future king of England) on a four month tour of the Near East. Bedford made about 210 views on this trip. The trip was followed avidly by the British press and Bedford and a number of his photographs were published (in woodcut form) in the London Illustrated News and elsewhere throughout 1862 and later. Bedford also had a one-man exhibition (Still an unusual event at the time.) upon returning to London, and also published the photographs, first in serial form, then as an album of original prints. The immense prestige garnered by Bedford through these activities established him firmly as one of the leading landscape photographers of the day, both within the photographic community and in the minds of the general populace. It also placed his family company on a solid financial footing for the remainder of the century.
Francis returned from the Near Eastern tour to again begin photographing landscape views in England, focusing his interest in the south-west of England and the West Midlands, while going again and again to his favorite sites in North Wales and Devonshire, which he photographed almost annually from 1863 until at least 1884.
Throughout the 1860s the many large national or international exhibitions, (Some displaying thousands of photographs and seen by scores of thousands of visitors.) provided a major venue for photographers. Bedford diligently participated in the annual Photographic Society exhibitions, the Edinburgh Photographic Society exhibitions, the international expositions in London in 1862 and in Paris in 1867, and in many other regional exhibitions in Great Britain and in Europe, winning awards and the usual degree of high praise or his landscapes. By 1865 “Bedford” is one of a handful of names that is routinely used by critics or writers as an example to denote high-quality and creative landscape views in photography. And as the British were believed to excel in the genre of landscape views, this made him considered to be one of the best and certainly one of the best-known photographers of the day.
Francis Bedford was elected to the London Photographic Society (now the Royal Photographic Society) and then elected a member of Council to that organization in 1857. In 1861 he was elected Vice President of the Photographic Society, a position of great prestige. He was active in that organization, periodically serving as an officer on the Council or as a Vice-President off and on for the next thirty years. For example, during 1867 Francis Bedford, serving as a Vice-President, chaired two of the monthly meetings, provided the negative for the annual “presentation print” which was distributed to the membership, and participated in the RPS annual exhibition. In December he resigned from the Vice-Presidency (Possibly because it was a rotating position, or possibly because his son William was elected to the Council that year and Francis didn’t want to create any sense of dynasty-building among the society’s membership.) But by 1876 Francis is back on the Council again. This is the year when William seems to blossom, winning a great deal of praise for his landscape views in the annual exhibition, including the statement that his work “…shows that the mantle of the father has fallen upon the son.” In 1878 both father and son were still active participants in the Society, the son, on the Council again, organizing many of the tasks of that group, and the father again elected to a Vice-Presidency to fill a sudden vacancy in the organization. Both Francis and his son William were still displaying landscape views in the annual exhibition in 1878, but by the late 1870s, with Francis reaching into his sixties and having achieved universal acclaim, the weight of the activity seems to have shifted from the father to the son. Both Francis and William Bedford had also been members in the North London Photographic Association, and equally active in both organizations during the 1860s. Francis also contributed liberally to local photographic societies exhibitions and events throughout the United Kingdom during these years. In 1884, at age 68, Francis relinquished full operation of his business to his son William. William Bedford, who had also been photographing landscapes from at least the early 1860s, actively assumed the operations of the family business and continued making many of the architectural views and landscapes of British scenery. Tragically, William Bedford died of typhoid fever in 1893, preceding his father by about eighteen months. Francis Bedford died in 1894, leaving a will worth £18,000.
PORTFOLIO OF VIEWS
Bedford exhibited his landscapes and architectural studies in the various annual exhibitions and by 1857 he was considered by critics to be one of the best landscape photographers in England. In 1859 Bedford traveled through North Wales making landscape photographs and stereo views, which he released commercially in the spring of 1860 through the publisher Catherall and Prichard, of Chester. Bedford focused his interest in the south-west of England and the West Midlands, going again and again to his favorite sites in North Wales and Devonshire, which he photographed almost annually until at least 1884. These stereo views were issued in series , “North Wales Illustrated Series,” “Devonshire Illustrated Series,” etc., throughout his lifetime, and in some cases these series consisted of two to three hundred images. As new images were added or replaced older images in these series, all attributed dates are approximate.
NORTH WALES ILLUSTRATED
DEVONSHIRE ILLUSTRATED SERIES
HEREFORDSHIRE ILLUSTRATED SERIES
MONMOUTHSHIRE ILLUSTRATED SERIES
WARWICKSHIRE ILLUSTRATED SERIES
THE HOLY LAND, EGYPT, CONSTANINOPLE, ATHENS, ETC., ETC.
[From the book Bedford, Francis. The Holy Land, Egypt, Constantinople, Athens, etc, etc. A series of forty-eight photographs taken by Francis Bedford for H. R. H. the Prince of Wales during the tour of the East, in which, by command, he accompanied his Royal Highness, with descriptive letterpress and interp. by W. M. Thomson. London: Day & Son, 1866. 2 vol. 48 I. of plates. 48 b & w. ]
Welcome to 2|42 Brighton. My name is Kelley Runion, and I’m the Campus Pastor here. Thanks for for checking things out! 2|42 Brighton is located at The Commons, Livingston County’s premier community center.
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