Thursday, April 16, 2015

Frank Meadow Sutcliffe and the Cunard Poster

Frank Meadow Sutcliffe is remembered mainly now only by the residents of Whitby, where he lived and did nearly all his photographic work, and by aficionados of early photography. His portraits of the poor fisherfolk of Whitby are really quite beautiful but he was much better known in his own lifetime for his photograph "The Water Rats" of a group of naked boys disporting themselves in Whitby harbour. That photograph was taken in 1886 and exhibited at the Royal Photographic Society Exhibition where King Edward VII saw it and was so taken with it that he ordered a big enlargement for Malborough House. "The Water Rats" is easily findable with Google and seeing it, you will wonder I am sure at the fact that such brazen nudity caused reactions too at the other end of the spectrum to the King's: the clergy of Whitby excommunicated Sutcliffe believing that the photograph would be source of corruption for the other sex! As with all controversies of this kind they tend to divert attention away from the brilliance of the artwork itself.

I was somewhat intrigued to see the poster above at a local antiques and collectibles fair recently. It is only a reproduction, but of an actual Cunard poster, and so gives an idea of just how well known Sutcliffe's photography was in his own time because this is an artistic representation of a photograph called "In Puer Naturalibus" (below).  A somewhat more posed affair than "The Water Rats" and perhaps the title in Latin might make us think he was reaching after something: but it is still a charming image. It took me ages to realise, however, that it was this photograph. The two poses are very recognisable but it took a while to understand that the artist of the poster has edited out the middle boy on the photograph and moved the right hand boy forward.

1 comment:

eArnie Painter said...

And the random, disturbing face in the upper right-hand corner.

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