Frederick Evans: Light and Shadow

Frederick Evans’ photograph of Durham Cathedral is typical of the perfectionism for which he is remembered. Taken from the interior of the Cathedral, Evans’ photograph depicts the cavernous spaces and detailed rib-vaulting of the buildings’ Gothic architecture.

Evans’ preferred method of platinotype printing (now simply referred to as ‘platinum printing’) lent itself particularly well to his architectural photography. The platinotype technique allows an extensive and subtle tonal range that enabled Evans to capture the detailed architectural motifs of the Gothic cathedral in all their glory. The tonal range also allowed for a detailed study of the scale of the building, with Evans’ depth of shadow lending a heightened sense of perspective.

Working for many years as a bookseller, Evans began to devote all his time to photographing the cathedrals of England and France in 1898. He worked fastidiously, often spending weeks studying the light of each cathedral at various times of day, patiently waiting for the precise effect he sought. Light was of particular interest to Evans as he believed it represented spiritual enlightenment. His ultimate goal was to create aesthetically and spiritually satisfying images that utilised the play of light and shadow on static architectural structures.

Evans never retouched his photographs, holding on to the firm belief that proper photographic practice did not require modification. The platinotype process to which Evans devoted his photographic practice was expensive, and increasingly so with the onset of World War One; by 1915 the technique became untenable, and unwilling to compromise and switch to an alternative method of print-making, Evans retired from photography altogether.

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