Although Frederick Henry Evans is best known for his exquisite architectural interiors, he also produced a number of outstanding portraits. A leading member of the Linked Ring Brotherhood, an organization formed to elevate photography to the status of fine art, Evans's acclaimed photographs were exhibited in Alfred Stieglitz's pioneering gallery "291" and were the first images by a British photographer to appear in Camera Work. In 1928 he was elected to the prestigious Royal Photographic Society as an Honorary Fellow.
Evans advocated the practice of "straight photography" and discouraged the manipulation of either negative or print. He also favored the use of platinum paper and was known for presenting his photographs in a manner traditionally reserved for Old Master drawings. In this particular example, he has mounted the print on wove paper, framed it with a meticulously drawn ink border, and inscribed it with his signature and the subject's name and profession, "H. Granville Barker: actor."
Harley Granville Barker was a well-established actor in British theater during the early 1900s and active in the "New Drama," a movement known for its experimental methods, intellectualism, and exploration of contemporary social issues. Evans most likely was introduced to Barker through their mutual friend George Bernard Shaw, whom Evans first met in 1898. Evans is known to have photographed Barker and the other cast members of Shaw's controversial play, Mrs. Warren's Profession, in 1902.
In Evans's portrait of Barker, the actor wears a top hat, overcoat, and pantaloons-formal attire from the mid-nineteenth century-and is clearly posed in character for an unknown performance, perhaps a work by Shaw or another British playwright. As in virtually all of his photographs, Evans has exercised careful control over lighting and composition; Barker is elegantly positioned before a darkened, empty background and is bathed in soft, warm light. Evans has not only created a dynamic sense of tension between the flatness of the print and his sculptural treatment of form, but has effectively captured Barker's dramatic personality and the mystery of the stage.