Frederick Gordon Tutton – A pioneer of early colour photography

Frederick Gordon Tutton (1888-1930) was a pioneer of early colour photography. He worked in Britain and the United States. One of his photographs is part of RAMM’s Fine Art collection.

‘A Domestic Affair’ shows an arrangement of colourful vegetables and kitchen utensil. Tutton’s widow Elsie Eliza Tutton (née Davis) donated it to the Museum in 1934. This print is a good example of early colour photography. It is a so-called tri-colour carbro print and was made in the mid-1920s. This was a very complex and time-consuming process. A photographic print is made by creating separation negatives. These were each photographed through different coloured filters. Of each of the negatives a silver bromide print is made and then pressed against sensitised carbon tissue of the appropriate colour. These are then superimposed to create the final colour print. The word ‘carbro’ is a combination of carbon and bromide. It is unclear whether this print is in fact a tri-colour carbro or a three colour carbon print as both processes are almost impossible to distinguish from one another.

A Master of colour photography

Born in Bath, Tutton joined the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) in 1916 and was made a Fellow in 1923 (F.R.P.S.). Interestingly, he almost always proudly signed ‘F.G. Tutton F.R.P.S.’ directly onto his prints. In 1927 he became a founding member of the Colour Group of the Royal Photographic Society. Other distinguished members were early women photographers Agnes Beatrice Warburg and Violet K. Blaiklock.

Detailed image of a colour photograph showing inscription of title 'A Domestic Affair' and the artist's signature
Detail of ‘A Domestic Affair’ by F.G. Tutton (1888-1930), c. 1925

Tutton was keen on experimenting with different colour processes. He made three-colour as well as two-colour prints. He developed the three colour carbon process further to enhance and intensify the colours in the final print and make them look more ‘natural’ by using specific dyes. For his ‘natural photography’ he was widely recognised. He received a medal by the Royal Photographic Society for his colour transparency ‘Wallflower, Pottery and a Book’. Tutton was especially praised for the colour of his oranges and natural-looking strawberries. To emphasise the qualities of colour photography he took many pictures of carefully arranged still lives of fruit and flowers. Nudes, portraits and scenic landscapes are also part of his oeuvre.

Detailed image of a colour photograph showing the artist's monogram: F.G.T.
Detail of ‘A Domestic Affair’ by F.G. Tutton (1888-1930), c. 1925

Photographs as objects

Tutton mounted his prints very distinctively. Often, he would record their title below and endorse them with his monogram. Rather than only looking at the image, often the back or mount of a photograph contain clues that can tell us more about its history, use and provenance.

A sticker at the back of the print ‘A Domestic Affair’ shows that the photograph was ‘exhibited at the Studio of the Department of Photography Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences’ in November 1928. In 1927 Tutton immigrated to the United States to take up an appointment in colour photography. Here, his work was displayed at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Science and The Pittsburgh Salon of Photographic Art.

Label from the back of the photograph 'A Domestic Affair': 'Exhibited at the studio of the department of photography Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, Date Nov. 5 1928'
Label from the back of the photograph ‘A Domestic Affair’

Tutton in Exeter

Tutton lived in Exeter for about 10 years, where he stayed in 18 Archibald Terrace and 9 Union Road. He managed Messrs. Troulans opticians whilst developing his colour photography for commercial purposes at the same time. This was a common profession for early amateur and professional photographers as it involved working with optical equipment. From 1915 to 1924 he was Secretary and Treasurer of the Exeter Camera Club. The Exeter Camera Club was established in 1890 and still operates today.

While living in Exeter, Tutton exhibited regularly at the Royal Photographic society’s annual exhibitions. One of his photographs is made of ‘A Devon Landscape’. In October 1926 Tutton also displayed a series of colour photographs at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum as part of the Exeter Camera Club exhibition that was held in Room 27. His attempts to create a Western Counties Photographic Federation were unsuccessful at first, but later led to meetings of the Western sections in Bristol and Bath.

Tutton did not only make photographs himself, but also shared his knowledge in lectures on the ‘Principles and Practice of Colour Photography’. His career was cut short as he tragically died in a street accident in Chicago at the young age of 42.

Alongside Alfred Rowden’s lantern slides of Paget early colour photographs and the slides for a lecture on colour photography by William Weaver Baker, Frederick Gordon Tutton’s three colour print is a highlight of early colour photography in RAMM’s collection.

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