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White Gray Black

Frederick H. Evans (British, 1853–1943)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

English photographer and writer. He took up photography in the early 1880s out of his interest in the ‘study of the beautiful’ while a bookseller in London. In 1887 he received a medal from the Royal Photographic Society for his microscopic photographs of shells, which to his dismay were categorized as scientific photographs. In 1889 he met Aubrey Beardsley and was instrumental in getting Beardsley his first assignment illustrating Tennyson’s Morte d’Arthur. Evans’s portrait of Aubrey Beardsley (1894; Rochester, NY, Int. Mus. Phot.), showing the artist holding his head in his hands, is one of his finest.

Around 1890 Evans began to photograph English and French cathedrals; it was on his architectural photography that his reputation was established. One hundred and twenty of his platinum prints were exhibited at the Architectural Club, Boston, in 1897. The next year, aged 45, Evans retired from his bookshop to devote his time to photography. In 1900 two achievements helped to consolidate his reputation: he had his first one-man exhibition of 150 prints at the Royal Photographic Society and was elected to the exclusive photographic brotherhood, the Linked ring. As one of its most important members, he was responsible from 1902 to 1905 for the innovative hanging of the annual Salons. In 1903 Alfred Stieglitz featured Evans’s photographs in his new journal Camera Work, accompanied by an appreciation by George Bernard Shaw. Evans’s a Sea of Steps (Wells Cathedral) (1903; Rochester, NY, Int. Mus. Phot.) is one of his greatest images of that period. The wave of steps to the chapter house that engulfs the viewer prompted such a rash of camera-club imitations that indentations were made in the floor for the amateur to erect his tripod in the correct spot.

In 1905 Evans took on assignments from Country Life that enabled him to photograph further afield, such as his commission in 1906 to photograph English parish churches and French châteaux. This period marked a shift in his style to solid, more sculptural architectural elements that contributed to his eventual distancing from the Ring. Around 1909 Evans turned increasingly to landscape photography, in which he explored effects of light in forested areas. In 1912 he began to publish privately platinotype editions of his collections of works by William Blake, Hans Holbein the younger and Beardsley. He was a master of the platinum print, then called the platinotype, which created an image of clear grey tones whose subtlety of range allowed for exceptional realistic detail. When combined with the precision allowed by his exposure, sombre corners of medieval churches became marvels of discriminating detail. His output declined by the 1920s due to the high price of platinum, his dissatisfaction with the new silver paper and his dislike of the photographic avant-garde’s interest in abstraction.

Evans was described by Alfred Stieglitz as ‘the greatest exponent of architectural photography’. Evans aimed to create a mood with his photography; he recommended that the amateur ‘try for a record of emotion rather than a piece of topography’. He would spend weeks in a cathedral before exposing any film, exploring different camera angles for effects of light and means of emotional expression. He always tried to keep the camera as far as possible from the subject and to fill the frame with the image completely, and he used a small aperture and very long exposure for maximum definition. Equally important to the effect of his photographs were his printing methods; he rejected the fashion for painterly effects achieved by smudging, blowing or brushing over the surface of the gum paper print. His doctrine of pure photography, ‘plain prints from plain negatives’, prohibited retouching.

Evans was a prolific writer on photography, regularly contributing essays and photographs to Camera Work until 1907 and to the weekly Amateur Photographer between 1902 and 1910, where he explained his philosophy of ‘pure’ photography. In 1928 he was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. Evans is represented in the collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Museum, the International Museum of Photography at Rochester, NY, and the Royal Photographic Society, Bath.

Mary Christian
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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