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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Lyddell Sawyer

Born: Edward Lyddell Sawyer 
Other: Lyd. Sawyer 
Joint: Sawyer & Son 
Joint: Sawyer & Sons 
Dates:  1856 - 1927, 13 April
Born:  GB, North Shields, Tynemouth
Died:  GB, London Borough of Richmond, Barnes
Active:  UK
Lyddell Sawyer was born in North Shields a town on the River Tyne in the North East of England. His father Edward was a competent portrait painter whose practice was to coincide with the newly emerging and game changing invention of photography. Edward was quick to respond, at first adding colour to his photographs and later making life size full length portraits which relied heavily on his painterly abilities. Although they looked like oil painting he advertised them as photographs, with the kudos of the new medium obviously having greater pulling power with his potential clients.
It wasn’t long before the new photographic portrait business moved up the River Tyne to the major industrial and cultural centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Lyddell worked closely with his father learning not just the new technique of photography but all the aesthetic considerations that make great visual art.
Soon Lyddell was playing an important role in the family business and by 1872, when just 16 years old was managing a new and prestigious studio in Northumberland Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Here a state of the arts facility was provided for the portraiture of the wealthy gentry and industrialists of the north east of England.
Lyddell was an ambitious young man who engaged himself with all the fashionable activities of the day, cycling on his penny farthing, singing and acting in the local dramatic society, travelling abroad etc.. The latter giving him greater understanding of his craft from both a commercial and creative point of view.
His interests in drama led him to take many photographs of carefully staged images on location on the River Tyne or in the beautiful surrounding countryside of Northumberland. These were so successful that they found their way into major exhibitions in London and eventually Europe and America. He became an important member of the Linked Ring an organisation of like minded creative photographers which included such important names as Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, Frederick Evans, James Craig Annan, and later Alfred Stieglitz, Gertrude Kasibier and Clarence White.
The new studio must have been very profitable as the family (he had three brothers and two sisters) who soon opened studios in nearby Sunderland and later in Regent Street, London. This was one of the major turning points in his life where he embraced the creative life of the capital. His love of the theatre became his overriding interest outside his professional interests, and when his young wife died of a brain haemorrhage he spent more time in the city leaving the running of the businesses in the north in the hands of the family.
The London theatre provided him with access to the rich and famous, with actors and politicians as regular customers at his stylish studio. Sir Henry Irving, the world famous actor, and the young Winston Churchill being among them.
He married twice more but sadly never had a family that survived long enough for him to pass on his many attributes.
In 1927 Lyddell Sawyer died at Barnes, West London.
Lyddell Sawyer and his extended family had studios in several addresses in the North East of England as well as at 230 Regent Street, London.
Lyddells father Edward was at a studio in Barras Bridge before moving to the address below. As well as other brief stays at both Grey Street & Clayton Street, Newcastle upon Tyne.
!888 at Singleton House, Northumberland Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Also at 40 Fawcett Street, Sunderland, England
Text courtesy of Geoff Lowe (March 2017)
Geoff Lowe, 2016, Lyddell Sawyer, photographer, 1856-1927, (Privately published by Geoff Low, ingénu/e Puublishing)

He had photographic studios in North Shields (GB) from 1886-1889 and Newcastle from 1886-1903, he also had a studio in Regent Street in London around 1896. He was member of the Photographic Society (1881) and the Linked Ring Brotherhood (1895).
(With thanks to Paul Cordes for additional information, pers. emails, 15 March 2012)

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Lyddell Sawyer
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

In about 1890, Lyddell Sawyer wrote to the Reverend F. C. Lambert that he was "born in photography, nursed in it, and have been continually ‘soaked’ in it ever since." Indeed, Sawyer’s father, uncles, brothers, and cousins were mostly photographers, making it destiny that he would enter the profession as well. Born Edward Lyddell Sawyer in 1856 in North Shields1, England, he was put in charge of one of the family’s thriving portrait studios in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, at the age of sixteen.
In 1885, Sawyer opened his own photographic business in the same city, and shortly thereafter was joined by two of his brothers. Ten years later, he expanded to London, establishing a portrait studio on Regent Street. He made his living churning out commissioned portraits but his heart lay in making creative photographs, in the naturalistic mode.
Around 1882, he joined the Photographic Society of Great Britain (later the Royal Photographic Society) in London. The January 1891 issue of Practical Photographer ran an article on his working methods. Most importantly, he was elected to membership in 1895, in the Linked Ring Brotherhood, England’s top group of artistic photographers. The same year, pictures by him were reproduced in both Photograms of the Year and the American Annual of Photography.
Sawyer was most active exhibiting for the last twenty years of the nineteenth century. In the 1880s, his pictures appeared regularly in the annual London exhibition of the Photographic Society of Great Britain. During the 1890s, his work was included in international exhibitions in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Vienna. American venues included the 1892 Joint Exhibition at the Boston Camera Club, the 1896 showing of the George Timmons collection in Syracuse, New York, and the American Institute Photographic salon of 1899.
Sawyer was one of only eight photographers featured in monographic issues of the short-lived London periodical Sun Artists. In July 1890, it featured four signed photogravures by him, all images that had previously won medals in Coventry, London, Richmond, York, and Calcutta. Writing about Sawyer in the issue, F. C. Lambert observed, "There is poetry to be found in scenes of daily toil and care. Humanity in all its states and surroundings appeals to him, as an abundant source for varied treatment." Sawyer’s pictures usually included figures, such as his famous image The Boat Builders, "reproduced by special request." This narrative piece shows two lads working on a wooden model, in subtle rear illumination worthy of the Italian painter Caravaggio.
Lyddell Sawyer’s amateur interests also involved music, painting, and the theater. He died in Barnes, England, on April 13, 1927.
  1. Place of birth confirmed to be North Shields (pers. email, Geoff Lowe to Christain Peterson, 10 July 2013). All the census forms from 1861 to 1911 give his birthplace as North Shields with the birth registered in nearby Tynemouth. (pers. email, Geoff Lowe to Alan Griffiths, 25 July 2013).
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.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

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