Frank Meadow Sutcliffe was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, on 6 October 1853. His father was a printer by trade but also a keen amateur photographer. In 1871, the family moved to Whitby and it was here that Frank took up photography. Unable to find a suitable studio in Whitby, he moved to Tunbridge Wells, Kent, with his wife, but found that he was unable to make a satisfactory living in the more competitive environment of the south and returned to Whitby in 1875.
Although portrait photography was his living and he was highly acclaimed in this field, winning numerous medals at international exhibitions, it was for his landscape and documentary work that he became best known. Frank Meadow Sutcliffe’s early photographs of Whitby and its people taken without contrivance must have required tremendous skill and patience with the wet plates which were necessary at that tie, and the resulting images have a fine luminous quality. One of his best-known pictures, a group of naked children playing in a boat, is a fine example of his natural, almost reportage approach. However, it landed him in considerable trouble, being cited by the Church as a an example of depravity. They excommunicated him.
Fortunately he recovered from establishment disapproval and was eventually sponsored by Kodak to do experimental work with new cameras and materials. At the age of 70, he became the curator of the Whitby Gallery and Museum, a post he held until his death in 1941 at the age of 87.
Collections of his work are held at the Royal Photographic Society and the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society.