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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Frederick Fiebig

Active:  India / Ceylon / Mauritius / Cape Town
 
  
German-born artist, lithographer and photographer. Early photographer who worked in Ceylon (1840s-1850s) who took what are thought to be the earliest surviving photographs of Ceylon, probably taken in 1852. In 1856 500 of his prints of Calcutta, Madras, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Mauritius and Cape Town were purchased by the East India Company and they are now in the British Library.

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John Falconer, British Library 
A Biographical Dictionary of 19th Century Photographers in South and South-East Asia

 
Amateur, India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, South Africa
Of German origins. Originally an artist and lithographer in Calcutta in the 1840s, a lithographic panoramic view of Calcutta from the Ochterlony Monument was published in 1847 (hand-coloured version of this, with sections joined together and bound between boards, at OIOC V12765). He had visited Singapore in 1846, for the purpose of painting a panoramic view of the settlement. Took up photography in late 1840s (c. 1849) and in the early 1850s produced nearly 500 calotypes of the architecture and scenery of Calcutta, Madras, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Cape Town. Apparently also photographed in China and Burma. Visited Madras in 1852, where he gave tuition in the calotype process. Writing to the East India Company from 4 Champion Grove, Camberwell in 1856, he stated that ‘during my travels in India I employed my leisure time in taking photographic views of the principal buildings and other places of interest at Calcutta, Madras, the Coromandel Coast, Ceylon, Mauritius, and the Cape of Good Hope’ (IOR, Miscellaneous Letter Received, vol.193, 1856; IOR/E/1/193). These prints he offered for sale at £60 per set hand coloured, £40 uncoloured. East India Company purchased a set of the coloured views.
 
Advertisement in the Singapore Free Press (2 Apr 1846):
‘Mr Fiebeg [sic], an artist at present residing in Singapore, has just finished a panorama of the town eight or ten [feet?] in length which he proposes to lithograph if he meets with sufficient encouragement to do so...The work is a very highly finished pencil drawing, executed with great skill and effect, while in regard to likeness it is perfect, each feature in the scene being rendered with the most minute fidelity without being either stiff or tame. Any part might be cut off the panorama and would form by itself a most spirited and characteristic picture, the foreground being enlivened by junks, sampans and other native craft...’
The Bengal and Agra directory and annual register for 1849 and 1850 lists ‘Fiebeg’ (no initials given) as a piano teacher in Calcutta.
 
His visit to Madras was described as follows:
PHOTOGRAPHY IN MADRAS
We hope soon to see both the Talbotype and Daguerreotype processes perfected in Madras, as one of our former pupils has made considerable progress in taking likenesses by the latter method and we got some valuable practical lessons in taking Talbotype views from an expert German professor of the art, M. F. Fiebig, who has been engaged for nearly three years in taking views in China, Moulmein, Rangoon, and Calcutta. We saw 7 or 800 views of Calcutta and 60 or 70 of Madras which had been taken with the greatest accuracy and minuteness of detail. Sketches taken in this way are invaluable to the artist, the botanist, the antiquary, and the engraver, as they save an immense amount of time and labor. The process of Talbotype has the advantage also of being comparatively economical, while it gives every minute detail with the greatest exactness. We saw enough in Mr Fiebig’s portfolios to convince us that it may be turned to use in almost any kind of fac simile representation - but here our admiration of it stops. It is a valuable, but at the same time a dangerous aid to the artist, as it teaches him to regard nature too much in her everyday common garb, when she is in general common place, vulgar, and minute. The real artist finds out by the use of the camera obscura what are the weak points and defects in nature, he also sees how few subjects will make a perfect picture if arranged and grouped exactly as we see them in the camera. The student of art is apt to be led away with the fascinating rapidity and minuteness with which the details are represented. These qualities of the process may be taken profitable advantage of, but they must be supposed to shorten, materially, the road to art, or to compensate for the want of a knowledge of its principles. The camera obscura can be used with greater skill by the artist than by the mere amateur, as the former knows by practice what is best calculated to make a picture and how to select the best point of view for every kind of subject. There is, perhaps, no quarter of the globe that presents such a fine field for the Talbotype as the Madras Presidency. The number, variety, and importance of the architectural antiquities, many of which are still in a good state of preservation, the diversity of the scenery and costumes, the varied character of the foliage, and the marked difference in the geological features of the several districts, with the innumerable local peculiarities of dress which, though scarcely appreciable by strangers, are still rigidly attended to by the natives, all point to this art as the great desideratum for illustrating the real condition of Southern India. Mr Fiebig’s visit was of too hurried a nature, and his views were intended to represent more of the European than the native aspects of India. We are much indebted to him for kindly instructing us in the process, which is by no means so difficult or complicated as the Daguerreotype, and we hope that he will have a large sale both in Europe and in India, for the sketches which he intends to publish.[1]
Collections: BL Photo 247-250 
  
 
  

Footnotes 
  
  1. Λ Illustrated Indian Journal of Arts, Madras, 1852, p. 32 
      
 
  

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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
 

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Images of Ceylon 
http://www.imagesofceylon.com 
A wonderful resource for showing the range of 19th and early 20th century photographs of Ceylon. 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
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