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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Alexander Keighley

Other: Alex Keighley 
Pen: Forrester 
Dates:  1861, 3 February - 1947, 2 August
Born:  Great Britain, Yorkshire, Keighley
Died:  Great Britain, Yorkshire, Keighley
Active:  UK
Amateur British photographer and a founder member of the Linked Ring Brotherhood. The leading pictorialist photographer in Britain from 1910-20, Keighley achieved the respect amongst his contemporaries in the twentieth century that H.P. Robinson had in the nineteenth. His work often has an air of mysticism about it.
[With contributions by Pam Roberts]

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Alexander Keighley
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

One of Britain’s biggest names in pictorialism, Alexander Keighley was deeply revered in his time. A deluxe, oversize monograph appeared on him in 1936, published in a numbered and signed edition by Die Galerie in Vienna. In 1947, the year of his death, the pictorial group of the Royal Photographic Society issued a memorial book on his work with two laudatory essays. And the American Annual of Photography led off its 1949 volume with an article on Keighley by J. Dudley Johnston, who declared him "the doyen of British photographers."
Keighley (pronounced "KEETH-lee") was born on February 3, 1861, into a well-established family in Keighley, Yorkshire. For virtually his entire life he lived in nearby Steeton, in a seventeenth-century manor house that became a Mecca for pictorial photographers. At fifteen years of age, he received a scholarship to what is now the Royal College of Science, London, where he became interested in medicine. After school, however, he bowed to paternal pressure and started work in the family’s textile mill, Sugden Keighley and Company, where he remained for over forty-five years, rising to the level of director.
He was exposed to photography around 1880, and seven years later scored his first major success by winning first place in a competition run by Amateur Photographer, judged by the great naturalistic photographer Peter Henry Emerson. In 1889, Keighley’s work was included in the annual exhibition of what would soon become the Royal Photographic Society, which he joined in 1896. The very next year, this organization conferred fellowship status upon him (FRPS), an unusually speedy decision, and in 1924 he was elevated to Honorary FRPS.
Previously working in albumen and platinum, Keighley discovered the carbon process in 1897 and soon switched to it exclusively, making the large, brown-toned prints for which he became widely known. He was a methodical worker, using a large-format camera and producing only a handful of finished images each year, for a lifetime output of about three hundred. He made most of his pictures outside of Britain, traveling to countries such as Yugoslavia, Spain, Italy, Greece, Sicily, Morocco, Egypt, and Syria. His images usually presented figures in landscape settings, which he heavily hand worked into romantic fantasies.
Keighley involved himself with many photographic organizations. Over time he was a member of the Bradford Photographic Society, the Yorkshire Photographic Union, and the London Salon, most of which elected him president. The Linked Ring Brotherhood elected him to its exclusive membership in 1900 and he was a frequent juror for the RPS. In 1928, he was a prime mover behind establishing the Photographic Alliance, which coordinated the activities of many English groups and he served as its treasurer for a long time. He traveled to South Africa in 1938 to encourage interaction between that country’s many camera clubs with those in England, touring in an automobile and photographing along the way.
Keighley’s work was prominent at exhibitions and in the photographic press. He presented solo shows at the Camera Club of New York in 1920 and 1922 and at London’s Royal Photographic Society in 1910 and 1943. One-person exhibitions of his photographs, likewise, were seen in Chicago (1930), Paris (1912, 1933), Vienna (1912), and Munich (1913). Photograms of the Year, the leading British annual, featured his pictures every single year from 1896 through 1947, the year of his death.
When he was sixty-two, Keighley sold his family business (this was in 1923, not 1932, as is often incorrectly stated). This allowed him to more actively pursue pictorial photography, painting, and other leisure activities. Alexander Keighley died at his Steeton home on August 2, 1947, and was interred in the estate’s cemetery. 
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
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Further research

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Messrs. Appleton & Co. (Bradford)
Alexander Keighley 
Family history 
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Visual indexes

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Internet biographies

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.120 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Alexander Keighley.] 
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