This fall, Hans P. Kraus, Jr. Fine Photographs will show the landmark
work of Frederick H. Evans (1853-1943), one of the great architectural
photographers. Frederick H. Evans: A Logical Perfection will
survey both Evans's architectural work and his landscapes from October 6
through November 7, 2008. More than two dozen platinum prints from 1890
to 1910 will be presented. Many of the prints will be on view in the
United States for the first time. Among the major highlights of the
exhibition will be Evans's well-known cathedral interiors including his
iconic Wells Cathedral: A Sea of Steps, 1903. A fully-illustrated catalogue with an essay by photographic historian, Dr. Larry J. Schaaf, will be available.
While photographs by Evans can be seen in major museums internationally, an exhibition of the artist's work has not been on view in New York since 1971 at the Witkin Gallery. In 1906, Alfred Stieglitz introduced Evans's photographs at his seminal 291 Gallery in New York, and said that Evans "stands alone…as the greatest exponent of architectural photography." The playwright George Bernard Shaw, a friend of Evans's, noted that he was "the most artistic of photographers" and "has set a standard in photography that most of us find entirely impossible to live up to."
Frederick Evans and the Queen
In the summer of 1911, Westminster Abbey was closed to prepare for the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary. Evans, the acknowledged photographic master of cathedral interiors, was given exclusive access. Evans said he was looking to "evoke the spirit of the place; its atmospheric charm; its dignity; its riches in composition; its wealth of lovely detail; to isolate its beautiful subjects so that audiences might always feel that they had seen the wondrous old pile as never before." Amid the construction for the coronation, Evans had to work with numerous interruptions – one from none other than the Queen herself. As recounted by his son Evan Evans, "Queen Mary of England was about to walk in front of his camera, the lens of which was sometimes open for as long as two hours, when he touched her arm and said, 'Excuse me, ma'am, but would you mind not going that way?' Her Majesty was at once interested and spoke to my father for over ten minutes on his favorite subject." A platinum print from that summer, Chapel of Henry VII. Canopies of Choir Stalls, Westminster Abbey, will be included in Frederick H. Evans: A Logical Perfection and Larry Schaaf writes in the catalogue that, "No finer renderings of the interior of the Abbey have ever been produced."
One of the more surprising images in the exhibition is Section through a Shell of the Nautilus, a striking silver print most likely from 1900 to 1915, which will be on view for the first time. The image is much earlier than Edward Weston's classic Nautilus from 1927. Weston was familiar with the work of Evans and acted as a judge for the International Photographic Salon in Los Angeles to which Evans contributed four architectural prints. In addition, Weston praised Evans's work as "among the finest" in this show. Later in a letter, Weston noted that Evans's late prints provided "his own best argument for his method of working." So it is quite possible that Evans inspired one of Weston's most famous subjects.
As Schaaf writes in the catalogue, "If Evans were to be known by only one photograph, it would have to be his Sea of Steps." Evans noted that the spiraling stairs are "like the surge of a great wave," adding that "it is one of the most imaginative lines it has been my good fortune to try and depict…" The photograph's monumental importance was recognized immediately, making the cover of the July 1903 issue of the journal Photography and a full page the following year in Country Life. Prints can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the George Eastman House, Rochester, NY; and The Philadelphia Museum of Art.
While celebrated for his architectural photographs, Evans also was lauded for his landscapes. Considered to be among one of Evans's finest, In Deer Leap Woods: Surrey, 1909, depicts an unremarkable forest scene. The influential editor H. Snowden Ward described the scene as "nothing of a subject," noting that "Few men would have attempted it." Yet he concludes that in the picture, Evans "emphasizes the things that thrill the soul and remain in the memory." Another landscape, Crepuscule au Printemps, before 1900, shows an amazing tranquility, considering that Evans would have to cope with the swaying of the trees during his extended exposures. Often Evans would make a series of short exposures, leading to an unusual look and a feeling of a strange silence in his images.
"There is a sense of peace and stability in all of Evans's photographs, a peculiar aesthetic that resulted from his absolute mastery over the tyranny of time. In order to secure the photographs that he visualized, Evans would frequently slow down time, or speed it up. He understood that something as seemingly mundane as his shutter was a powerful tool for shaping his photograph," Schaaf observes in the catalogue.
The catalogue essay by Dr. Larry J. Schaaf advances the scholarship about Frederick H. Evans and his working processes and, along with the exhibition, reveals anew the majesty of his photographs.