One of the leading British photographers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Frederick Evans was celebrated particularly for his images of medieval architecture. He began his career in the book trade and during the 1890s owned a bookstore in London’s Cheapside. The store brought him into contact with many prominent literary figures of the time, and he became lifelong friends with George Bernard Shaw and Aubrey Beardsley, both of whom sat for his camera. Evans began to practice photography in 1883 and retired from his bookstore in 1898 to pursue it full time. His first photographs were photomicrographs of natural specimens seen under a microscope, which he exhibited in 1886 at the Photographic Society. He also made a series of early landscapes, many in the Lake District of northwest England. By the late 1880s he had expanded his scope to cathedral interiors and portraits. In 1900 he was elected to the Brotherhood of the Linked Ring, an exclusive group of British photographers who sought to demonstrate the artistic merit of their medium.
Evans’ studies of medieval British cathedrals brought him the greatest acclaim. He followed a methodical approach, spending long periods of time in each location, studying the architecture and the changing effects of light throughout the day. He described his cathedral views as "poems in stone," and he strove to achieve not only a record of the physical facts of the architecture but also to elicit an emotional and spiritual resonance in his images. "In Sure and Certain Hope," the title of this photograph showing a sculptural tomb in York Minster, is taken from the burial service in the Book of Common Prayer and reinforces the spiritual quality of the image. Evans also removed any distracting modern elements, such as gas lamps or chairs to prevent them from clashing with the purity of the medieval architecture and sculpture.
His primary medium of choice was platinum paper, because its rich, delicate tonal range captured the subtlety and grace of carved stone. He was also meticulous in the presentation of his prints, which were carefully mounted on pale colors with multiple layers or narrow ruled borders. The results, like York Minster, North Transept, “In Sure and Certain Hope,” are some of the most sublime architectural photographs ever created. Evans became the first British photographer published by Alfred Stieglitz in the influential journal Camera Work. Stieglitz even reproduced this photograph twice in Camera Work, an honor he bestowed on few other artists or works of art. Stieglitz wrote of Evans’ work that he "stands alone in architectural photography."
signed by artist, on mount, below image in graphite: York Minster: North Transept "In sure and certain hope" Frederick H. Evans; on verso, on mount, by artist's hand, upper left corner in graphite: 7HE; center in red pencil: 7HE; center in graphite: direct not enlarged
(Charles Isaacs Photographs Inc., New York); NGA purchase, 2011.
- A Subtle Beauty: Platinum Photographs from the Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2014 - 2015, unnumbered catalogue.
- In Light of the Past: Celebrating Twenty-Five Years of Collecting Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, May 3 – July 26, 2015