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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Frank Meadow Sutcliffe

Dates:  1853, 6 October - 1941, 31 May
Born:  Great Britain, England, Leeds, Headingly
Died:  Great Britain, England
Active:  England
He was a portrait photographer by profession but is best known for his photographs of the people, the harbor, the boats and the sea of Whitby in the north east of England. There is great love in these sympathetic and informed studies which sold as well to the tourist trade of the late nineteenth century as they do today.
[Courtesy of Pam Roberts]

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Sutcliffe was a leading naturalistic photographer in Victorian England. Working during the last three decades of the nineteenth century, he operated a portrait studio in the northern coastal city of Whitby, but was most revered for his sensitive images of its port and everyday people.
Frank Meadow Sutcliffe was born in Headingley, on October 6, 1853, to a father who was supportive of artistic endeavors, being a photographer and artist himself. The family moved to Whitby in 1871, and over the next few years Sutcliffe photographed abbeys and castles throughout Yorkshire for the countryís leading commercial firm, Francis Frith and Company.
For a short time in 1875, Sutcliffe ran his own portrait studio in Tunbridge Wells, but returned to Whitby the next year, after it failed. There, he established a successful one, which he operated for over forty-five years. Realizing his portrait business was seasonal, Sutcliffe began exploring the cityís streets, docks, and other public areas, capturing children, fishermen, and merchants, going about their daily routines. Never directing his subjects, he excelled at finding people posing naturally in realistic settings. He printed most of these photographs in carbon, a rich and permanent process that only enhanced the creative look of his images.
Sutcliffe was elected to membership in Londonís Linked Ring Brotherhood in 1892, giving him entry to the countryís most exclusive group of artistic photographers. His work was reproduced in Photograms of the Year between 1897 and 1900 and in 1903. Most importantly, an issue of Sun Artists was devoted to him in July 1891, part of an important series of monographs edited by W. Arthur Boord and published in London. This lavish periodical featured four signed photogravures of his work, including Water Rats, his best-known piece, picturing young, nude boys who had arranged themselves nicely in shallow water.
Sutcliffe exhibited in salons and other photographic exhibitions in Europe and the United States for thirty years. He began by 1873, when his work was included in the annual showing of the Photographic Society of Great Britain (later the Royal Photographic Society). Among the places presenting his photographs were Berlin, Brussels, Edinburgh, Florence, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Paris, Vienna, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Rochester. His pictures appeared in the 1896 showing of the George Timmins collection in Syracuse, New York, and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis.
From 1903 to about 1930, Sutcliffe was a prolific writer for both the photographic press and the Yorkshire Evening Post. He retired from his portrait studio around 1922. The next year, at age seventy, he became the curator of the Whitby museum, a post he held for most of the rest of his life 
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
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Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
English, 1853-1941

Frank Meadow Sutcliffe was born in 1853 in Headingly, Leads, England. He became active in photography around 1870, and established a studio in the Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby, where he was very successful as a carte de visite and portrait photographer. He wrote extensively about photography and from 1908 until about 1930 had a column in the Yorkshire Weekly Post and contributed several other articles to magazines and newspapers, including Amateur Photography. Sutcliffe was a distinguished photographer of his day and was a founding member of The Linked Ring, as well as an Honorary Fellow of RPS. The first photographer to have a one-man show held by the Camera Club in 1888, his work was frequently exhibited and widely respected, as is demonstrated by the sixty-two medals he received throughout his lifetime. Sutcliffe experimented with many varieties of prints - albumen, silver, carbon and platinum - and in his later years also did experimental photography for Kodak, using their hand-held camera.
Although he was successful as a commercial photographer, Sutcliffe is best known for his personal landscape and genre prints, which he took in Whitby. He was influenced by P. H. Emerson and early realist French painters. Sutcliffe focused on the small-town inhabitants of Whitby - the fisherman, farmers, their wives and their children at work and at play. He is especially recognized as being able to capture people in a natural, unposed state despite the fact that the slow technique of wet plates that he often used made it difficult to do so. For further information on Sutcliffe see Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, published by Aperture with text by Michael Hiley.
[Contributed by Lee Gallery] 

Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer.Show on this siteGo to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
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Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.78 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.248-249 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.262 
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