Frank Meadow Sutcliffe

Frank (Francis Meadow Sutcliffe) (Image from Wiki)

In his time, Frank Meadow Sutcliffe (Hon Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society) was one of the most talented photographers, period. He won medals at exhibitions world wide, including Paris, Berlin, Calcutta, Tokyo, New York and so on, and yet too few have heard of him, I suspect because of where he lived!

FMS was born in Leeds (UK) in 1853. The birth date of “Photography” is less precise, but it wasn’t much before. His family moved to Whitby in Yorkshire in in 1870, and it was here that FMS was to make most of his popular work, between 1875 and 1910.

Like many I’d never heard of him either, until I was in a second hand book shop in Dorset, of course looking in the photography section. There was a green book, I pulled it out, thumbed through it’s pages, and there was no question – I was buying it. One of those rare occasions where I didn’t care what the price was! I had been transported back 150 years to a working fishing town, and all that goes with it. The photography stunning.

Whitby’s main claim to fame is of course, Dracula and Bram Stoker. It is believed the title of the novel came from Stokers’ visit to Whitby’s public library as he believed it was Romanian for Devil! Dracula was published in 1897, right in the middle of FMS working life. One can see from his images of the ruined abbey, the sailing ships draped in rigging, and the narrow streets how inspiration might have come to Stoker.

A Trio of books

I passed through Yorkshire once in the 80’s on my way to a brief visit to Scotland. We stopped in Wensleydale for a quick car stop, and I made one single Kodachrome slide to record the event – a view across the dale. It wasn’t until 2017, that I actually went to Yorkshire for an extended visit. That visit included Whitby. I sought out the Sutcliffe Gallery.

The Sutcliffe Gallery, Whitby

I have since found copies of the other two volumes produced by the gallery, and read up more on this remarkable photographer. He used a full plate camera, and a photo of his actual camera can be found on the galleries, website along with many of his images. If you have some spare time, I can happily recommend a visit…

FMS Plate Camera

The Sutcliffe Gallery

FMS Wiki Entry

Whitby

PS Does anyone know why a “Full Plate” is 6.5 x 8.5 inches??

4 thoughts on “Frank Meadow Sutcliffe

  1. Thanks for the intro to this fine photographer. It is interesting that the contemporary prudish criticisms of his “Water Rats” so closely resemble those in our day of the work of Sally Mann.

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    1. Hi Mike, A pleasure! It is strange to me that people cannot see the “art” in both cases. I can understand the “fuss” about children being photographed, I avoid making photo’s myself, I find it sad though that such photographs are now deemed distasteful by some. With regard to Sally Mann, it is my understanding that none of the family images were published, without the individual in question agreeing the the publication anyway. I only found out a week or so ago, about the passing of her son, I imagine that those images have become ever more precious – especially to her! Take care and all best wishes Andy

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  2. My understanding is ‘full plate’ indicated it could be contact printed directly onto sensitised ‘Monarch’ size paper in the Imperial system, 7.2″ x 10.5″, half plate 2 could be done, quarter plate 4 could be done at a time. This would leave margins all around if printing the full plate and room for margins between half or quarter plate negatives. Not sure if this is correct but seems to make sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Ed, Yes that makes perfect sense. I have to confess I’ve never even thought about imperial paper sizes, in fact I don’t recall even ever hearing about “Monarch” size paper before! It just goes to show – “you learn something everyday!!” – All the best, Andy

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