Born in England (Headingly, Leeds) on October 6, 1853 to Thomas and Sarah Button Sutcliffe, Francis Meadow Sutcliffe obviously inherited his artistic talents. His father was an acclaimed watercolorist and etcher, and his grandfather was a successful painter. He spent his early years in the carefree Whitby countryside, which is what inspired his lifelong love of photography. In a later editorial, he revealed his childhood desire to make snapshots of the natural beauty that surrounded him. However, Thomas Sutcliffe did not share his son's passion for what he considered an inferior art form. The senior Sutcliffe believed photography was an attempt to replace painting, and that because it took only a matter of seconds to snap a photograph whereas it took years to compose a masterpiece, it was a "lazy man's" art of choice. However, it was the immediacy of photography that appealed to the junior Sutcliffe.
After Thomas Sutcliffe's death in December 1871, his son began photographing locals near his Whitby home. From 1872 until 1873, he worked for Francis Frith's prosperous studio photographing the many castles and churches of Yorkshire. Mr. Frith mentored his young protége, teaching him how to use tracing paper masks to heighten the tone of his prints. He also instructed Mr. Sutcliffe to omit people from landscape views because they tend to distract viewers from their focal point. Upon seeing Mr. Sutcliffe's "Sunset After Rain" photograph taken above Rievaulx Abbey, renowned art critic John Ruskin invited the fledgling photographer to his country home, which resulted in a series of beautiful pastoral photographs.
On January 1, 1875, Frank Sutcliffe married Eliza Weatherill Duck, with whom he would have four children. Settling his family in Sleights, he attempted unsuccessfully to open a fashion portrait studio in the elite district Tunbridge Wells (Kent). When that failed, Mr. Sutcliffe returned to his beloved working-class Whitby to set up shop. Mr. Sutcliffe carved his photographic niche into this rural fishing village. His extraordinary photographs of ordinary fishermen won him considerable critical recognition. In 1886, he took his most famous – or perhaps infamous – photograph, "Water Rats." The image of naked children innocently playing in a fishing boat caused an uproar that resulted in the photographer's own excommunication from his church. However, Mr. Sutcliffe refused to compromise his artistic integrity to appease his religious detractors. "Water Rats" is a charming photograph completely devoid of eroticism, and was awarded a medal at London's Photographic Society Show in 1886.
Capitalizing upon his newfound fame, Mr. Sutcliffe's photographs were presented in a one-man show at the prestigious London Camera Club in 1888, and four years' later he became a member of the Linked Ring, which reflected his desire to promote photography as an art form. He also enjoyed a long career as a contributor to popular photographic journals including Photography, Amateur Photographer, The Practical Photographer, The Photogram, and Camera Notes. In addition, he penned the "Photography Notes" column for the Yorkshire Weekly Post for twenty-two years. Mr. Sutcliffe won an impressive 62 awards for his photography, and after selling his studio in 1922, he became curator of a museum in Whitby, a position he maintained until March of 1941. Frank Meadow Sutcliffe died on May 31, 1941 at his Sleights home, and was buried in Aislaby churchyard, which is located just north of the Whitby he loved to photograph.
1893 The Photographic Journal of America, Vol. XXX (New York: Edward L. Wilson), p. 298.
1902 The Photogram, Vol. IX (London: Dawbarn & Ward, Ltd.), pp. 107-108.
2008 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 1364.
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