Missing Persons 4: Frederick H Evans

No proper view of British photography in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century would be complete without the work of Frederick Evans. At a time when most photographers with any pretention as artists were busily engaging in making their prints look less like photographs and more like paintings through the use of rough papers and special printing techniques that allowed them to work on the image.

Evans followed instead the example of P H Emerson, photographing in a technically precise manner and printing on platinum paper, which produced a linear tonal scale and was not normally susceptible to manipulation. He was noted for refusing to retouch his work, relying instead on perfecting his technique. His images owed their effect to light, and he would sometimes spend hours, days or even weeks studying the effects of light in the buildings he wanted to photograph in order to find the time of day and light that would produce the photographic effect he wanted.

He valued the clear and delicate tonality of the platinum print to such an extent that when the material went off the market he made no more prints, refusing to use the cruder and less linear tonal scale of the silver print. Some of his images were also reproduced using the Woodburytype process, which uses a relief image on a lead printing plate to produce different thicknesses of pigmented gelatin – and hence different tones – on the paper – essentially a mechanically produced carbon print.

As well as his architectural studies, which certainly include some of the finest images of English cathedrals and their interiors, he also made a number of fine portraits, including justly well-known images of Aubrey Beardsley.

Evans was a leading member of the ‘Linked Ring’ group of artistic photographers. He was also the first English photographer to have his work printed by Alfred Stieglitz in his magazine ‘Camera Work’ in 1904, and 2 years later Stieglitz showed his pictures in his New York gallery, ‘291’, along with the work of D O Hill and James Craig Annan.

Peter Marshall

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