Saturday, April 03, 2010

Cromer Pier now and then

click photo to enlarge
Frances Frith (1822-1898) was a Victorian entrepreneur, who, after making his money in wholesale groceries and printing, established himself as a photographer and a supplier of postcard views. It's likely that he took an amateur interest in the relatively new field of photography before he set off to photograph Egypt and the Holy Land in 1856. After his return to England he established a business in Reigate supplying postcards of the images he had taken overseas. However, his firm really took off when he set it the task of photographing every town and village in the British Isles, so that postcards could be sold in all these localities. Frith took many of the images himself, but increasingly employed staff to assist with the task. He persuaded the Post Office to stock his cards, as well as two thousand tobacconists, newsagents and other shops. His photographic postcards were printed in enormous quantities by a firm in Saxony. Frith tried not to just record the places and historic sites, but to compose images innovatively and sensitively, offering the buyer a record that was both pleasing and truthful. He never quite succeeded in his aim of photographing every location, but his firm was, nonetheless, a great success. It remained a family business until 1968, and in other hands continues to this day as The Francis Frith Collection.

I recently bought a book that features a large selection of Frith's photographs. They are shown in the context of Britain as it was in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, compared with photographs of the same scenes today. An extensive narrative comments on what the images depict, and opines on the changes that can be seen. It is the most disappointing book I've bought for a very long time. This is largely because the tone of the author's voice is, in the main, too negative and too condemnatory of change for my taste. He seems to have some difficulty seeing and writing about the changes for the better that are evident today, and to be too accepting of the superiority of the past. Fortunately I'd bought the book second-hand for very little!

I was reminded of my book when I was processing this photograph of Cromer Pier. It contains three photographs of the Norfolk coastal town. However, the search facility at The Frith Collection took me to a list 169 views! And very interesting and useful this proved too. I was able to compare my photograph with a view from 1901, the year before the pier's official opening, and get an idea of what remains of the original structure.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 12mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/640
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On