This photographer has become one of my personal favourites, especially the way he treats the light within a building is to die for! When taking my first careful steps in Medium format photography with my newly bought and repaired Microflex TLR, I myself was immediately drawn to my (at that time) local church, the Maria Church in Warwick, UK, because of the many details the building has and the life that seems to breathe from the stones. Now I am not a great fan or photographer of architecture, and I suppose I will not become one soon, but this photographer creates such inspiring work – it makes me want to dive right back into it!

 

Frederick Henry Evans was born on the 26th of June 1853 in London. He began his career as a bookseller,and took up photography in the early 1880s out of his interest in the ‘study of the beautiful’. 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. By 1890 he had begun to take pictures of English and French cathedrals and his fame as an architectural photographer would be established on these images. In 1898 he devoted himself to photography, adopting the platinotype technique; Platinotype images, with extensive and subtle tonal range, non glossy-images, and better resistance to deterioration than other methods available at the time, suited Evans’ subject matter. 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.

After 1900, Evans had started writing for Amateur Photographer and from 1903 his pictures were featured in Camera Work, Alfred Stieglitz’s magazine. 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.

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.

This perfectionism, along with his tendency to exhibit and write about his work frequently (without analyzing it), earned for him international respect and much imitation. He ultimately became regarded as perhaps the finest architectural photographer of his, or any, era – though some professionals privately felt that the Evans’ philosophy favoring extremely literal images was restrictive of the creative expression rapidly becoming available within the growing technology of the photographic field.

When platinum paper became unavailable after the great war, Evans gave up photography.  In 1928 he was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Photographic Society and in London, on the 24th of June 1943, virtually forgotten, he would pass away .

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.

 

 

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