Durham Cathedral, Across Nave, 1912
Frederick H. Evans
Frederick H. Evans was an English photographer born in 1853 in London. His photographic studies of cathedrals in both France and England are amongst the finest studies of religious architecture in photographic history. Evans was the first British photographer whose work Alfred Stieglitz published in Camera Work.
Initially working as a bookseller in London, in 1898 he chose to take up practising photography full time. The notion of light in photography was of particular interest to Evans, as to him it represented spiritual enlightenment. As a photographer he never sought to capture spontaneous moments but rather spent days trying to produce the perfect image. He would often spend weeks studying the light of a single building at various times of the day in order to acquire the precise effect he desired.
His style of photography often emphasises a cathedral’s vast spaces and diverse variety of light and texture, seeking to create aesthetically and spiritually fulfilling images that illustrated the play of light and shadow on static architectural structures.
Evans refused work to touch up or enhance any of his images, as he believed that proper photographic practice did not require any form of modification. Evans was both a purist and a perfectionist at heart and when his friend George Bernard Shaw, the famous playwright, was questioned about his friend’s work he said, ‘Mr. Evans has set a standard in photography that most of us find entirely impossible to live up to. He is a gentleman who has dedicated himself to an art which is disparaged by those who believe that when a lens is in a box it is mechanical, but not when it is in a man’s head.’
Evans’ preferred method of photography was the platinotype process, now referred to as platinum painting. This technique is a monochrome printing process which provides the greatest tonal range which is not attainable with any other printing method. This method best suited Evans’ work as the technique allowed for the extensive and subtle tonal range that he sought, and permitted him to capture the details of a structure with the utmost precision. However, with the onset of World War One the precious metal became too expensive, and by 1915 Evans’ technique became unsustainable. Unwilling to compromise and switch to an alternative method of print-making, Evans chose to retire from photography altogether.
Evans was also a member of the Linked Ring photographers and was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 1928. Little is known of his early life, however the legacy he left behind was monumental in understanding the history of architectural and landscape photography.