Frederick Evans took up photography in the early 1880s while a bookseller in London. Around 1890, he began to photograph English and French cathedrals and after a successful exhibition of a number of these prints at the Architectural Club, Boston in 1887, Evans, aged 45, gave up his shop and devoted himself to photography. In 1900, his first one-man exhibition at the Royal Photographic Society and his election to the exclusive Linked Ring group helped establish his reputation. In 1903 he was the first English photographer invited by Alfred Stieglitz to contribute to his new journal Camera Work, accompanied by an appreciative review by George Bernard Shaw.
A Sea of Steps, created the same year, is unquestionably Evans' finest architectural photograph. Indeed, his masterful arrangement of form in this work prompted such a rash of camera-club imitations that indentations were actually made in Wells Cathedral's floor so that these enthusiastic amateurs could erect their tripods in the correct spot!
Stieglitz described Evans as the greatest exponent of architectural photography, recognizing Evans' singular ability to impart emotional content to his meticulous arrangements of light and stone. This dynamic was not accomplished quickly; Evans would spend weeks in situ before taking a shot, exploring all possible camera angles in order to achieve the most satisfactory composition. Typically, he set his camera as far away from the subject as possible, so that the frame was completely filled. He also used a small lens aperture and very long exposure for maximum definition. This rigorous approach was also applied to printing. An advocate of 'straight' photography, Evans completely rejected the contemporary fashion for a painterly effect achieved through the manipulation of negatives or prints. His own photographs, usually in platinum, were straightforward and unretouched. That this print of his best-known image is in gelatin silver makes it an intriguing curiosity and therefore possibly more rare than its platinum counterparts.