Born in 1861 to a Yorkshire Mill owner, Alexander Keighley was a pioneer and one of Britain’s biggest names in Pictorialism. He was deeply revered in his time, with an international reputation. He was heavily influenced by Henry Peach Robinson’s work and writings and Impressionist painting.
In 1887 Alex submitted a set of 12 prints to a competition organised by the journal, ‘The Amateur Photographer’ and won. Just to give you an idea of his competitors in that competition Alfred Stieglitz came second !
He firmly believed that photography was an artistic medium (not just a mechanical process). A member of The Photographic Society of Great Britain (later: The Royal Photographic Society) he became a Fellow in 2 years.
In 1892, Keighley was invited to become a member of the group of well-known amateur photographers who, due to insufficient recognition of their art, founded the Brotherhood of the Linked Ring (later: The London Salon). Ten years later Steichen and Stieglitz formed the American equivalent of the Linked Ring, known as the Photo-Secession.
Keighley was a great club photographer who gave generously of his time and knowledge. In1 889 he was a founder member of Keighley & District Photographic Society and President of Bradford Photographic Society.
He was one of the founders of the YPU in 1899 and was its treasurer for the first 10 years. He became President in 1910-1913, then President again in 1920 and remained President for the next 27 years until his death in 1947.
Above all his greatest achievement was that he made five to six pictures (of exhibition quality and international importance), every year for fifty years, an astonishing feat.
Pictorialism, a revolutionary movement in its time, became an old fashioned concept sometime in the 1970’s and fell out of fashion. I feel however that Keighley would be right at home with a computer and modern methods of compositing images. After all that’s what he was doing all his life.
On his death the YPU inherited a large collection of prints by Keighley, which were made available to clubs and societies. In 1988 Keighley’s prints were sold to the National Museum of Photography, then at Bradford.
The money was put into an account and the interest from the principal sum was use to supplement The Keighley Memorial Day and weekend events.
David Burgess MA ARPS
YPU Archive Secretary