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Homage to Frederick H. Evans

Let’s face it – most “well known” photographers are not household names! Many people, or at least Westerners of my generation, would recognize the name Ansel Adams, but that’s probably about it. When I began taking photography more seriously, I endeavored to familiarize myself with other photographers who are well known in the realm of artistic photography. Usually the photographers whose work I sought out were landscape photographers. Initially I was interested in ones whose work was in color, but later I gravitated toward those working in black and white.

Frederick H. Evans was an English photographer who worked in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some of his photographs are of what we might call “inhabited landscapes,” pastoral scenes from the English countryside. But he is best known for his interior photographs of English cathedrals. Ansel Adams made what are known as silver gelatin prints - if, “back in the day,” you made black and white photographs for the yearbook or school paper, your prints were of this type. Evans made platinum prints, which distinguish themselves by finer gradations of middle tones in a photograph. Platinum prints often lack the strong contrast that silver gelatin prints have but, when well made, have a wonderful look to them. Ansel Adams himself makes the following remark in his book The Print (note that “reflection density” simply means darkness or lightness):

“… we cannot equate brilliance with contrast. I recall about twelve years ago measuring the reflection densities of several of Frederick Evans’ platinum prints from the late nineteenth century, which conveyed an astonishing sense of brilliance. Much to my surprise, I found that the actual tonal range of reflection densities was far lower than I had expected. The apparent brilliance of the prints was explained by the subtle relationship of values, rather than by actual contrast.”

Evans’ cathedral photographs are very well composed and have a wonderful sense of atmosphere due to the lighting. He often spent weeks exploring a cathedral and watching the light throughout the day before making photographs. His most well known photograph is A Sea of Steps – Stairs to the Chapter House, Wells Cathedral:

Some time ago, when visiting my sister in Seattle, we spent an afternoon on the University of Washington campus. Fortuitously, I had taken my camera along. At one point we went into the university library and I was presented with the closest thing I’d seen to a cathedral since a trip to the National Cathedral many years ago. Feeling inspired and thinking of Evans’ images, I made a half dozen or so photographs, including this one:

In fun I call it A Lake of Steps – Stairs to the Second Floor, University of Washington Library. Here are a few more of Evans’ photographs:

Although it is not generally my intent to closely imitate the style or vision of other photographers, in this case I enjoyed the opportunity to try to emulate the look and feel of Frederick Evans’ photographs. I’m quite happy with the results, which I occasionally display in our house as a group. Here are the other three that came out well:

If you would like to read more about Evans, here is a nice article. I would also recommend both of the books Frederick Evans; An Aperture Monograph and The Photography of Frederick H. Evans.

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Gary Beene
Gary Beene
03 may 2020

Those are some pretty spectacular photos. And by the way, Gregg Waterman is a household name around this house!

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