Lyddell "Lyd" Sawyer was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England in 1856. He once remarked that he was born to be a photographer because his painter father had been one of its earliest practitioners. The young Sawyer received his professional education as an apprentice in his father's portrait studio. He also studied optics and chemistry, and passed the examination of the City of London Guild in 1885, the same year he left his father's studio. For a few years, he was an itinerant photographer, living and working in London and Paris. After receiving a medal at a Derby exhibition in 1887, he began building his own Singleton House studio in his hometown of Newcastle.
Within a few years, Mr. Sawyer had established a reputation as one of the Victorian era's most gifted art photographers. His artistic inner circle included fellow photographers Henry Peach Robinson and Frank Meadow Sutcliffe. By 1893, Mr. Sawyer had opened a second studio in Sunderland, and at this time enlisted the assistance of his two capable brothers Henri and Rubens Sawyer. With his brothers and the assistants he had trained personally, Mr. Sawyer's studios flourished. Using the pseudonym of 'Sheriff,' he joined the Brotherhood of the Linked Ring in November 1895. Despite his dedication to promoting photography as an art form, Mr. Sawyer steadfastly maintained he only regarded this as “a means to an end,” which was operating the most commercially and critically successful studio in London's art district.
Leaving the other studios under his brothers' leadership, he opened a gallery on Regent Street, which is where he developed the philosophy that photographers 'make' photographs, rather than merely take them. He maintained that the most powerful images must possess poetic narrative or lyrical characteristics because photography was both a visual and intellectual form of expression. He drew inspiration from his painter father and from the writings and photographs of his friend Henry Peach Robinson. His soft naturalistic portraits utilized gray tones that enhanced their earthiness. Unlike many of his contemporaries. Mr. Sawyer did not feel compelled to travel the world in search of photographic muses. He encouraged amateurs to master their surroundings and that they could literally find photographic inspiration in their own back yards. Perhaps appropriately, nearly all that is known about Lyddell Sawyer resides in his images, which were featured in several important publications of the period including Sun Artists, and the Photographs of the Year exhibit catalogue published by the The Photographic Society of London, and have since been reprinted in several Victorian photographic retrospectives. After winning more than 50 of the highest honors in the photographic industry, Lyddell Sawyer inexplicably severed his ties with the Linked Ring in 1901. There is no record of his life after he ceased his studio operations in 1908.
1962 Creative Photography: Aesthetic Trends, 1839-1960 (Toronto, Canada: General Publishing Company), p. 245.
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 1247.
1895 The Photogram, Vol. II (London: Dawbarn & Ward, Ltd.), p. 212.
1894 The Photographic Times, Vol. XXIV (New York: The Photographic Times Publishing Association), pp. 69-73.
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