Many reading this may never have heard of Tony Evans. Indeed, there is virtually no mention of him on the Internet. He was a photographer of supreme talent and fastidiousness in his work. In his time, he won 11 silver D&AD awards and one gold.
In an age long before digital technology, he produced miracles in camera. He was also the man that designers and art directors felt comfortable with because we (and I include myself) knew that he would deliver beyond our expectations.
This photograph of David Hockney, taken in 1963, was Tony's first published picture. What a great start.
One of Tony’s great design collaborators was John Gorham, the late and great craft-based but always conceptually brilliant graphic designer. The pairing was a match made in heaven. Both dedicated to perfection, both eccentric and both with a love of nature.
This is an example of their collaboration. The film poster for Red Monarch (1983) was designed by John Gorham in collaboration with Howard Brown (another very special graphic talent). The strong simple idea was elevated to a great idea with Tony’s fanatical attention to the tomato’s beautiful splat. It was lovingly applied and manipulated into being by Tony using a glass ear-dropper.
For this beautiful shot for Nova magazine, art directed by David Hillman in 1971, Tony contrived this bunch of onions contained in a specially made onion-shaped glass with a plugged opening at the back, into which he lovingly arranged the onions, which he had carefully prepared to perfection. The result is stunning.
Two years earlier and for the same publication (Nova), he had this witty gas ring made to accompany an article entitled Affectionate Suppers for Two by Caroline Conran.
For the cover of Epitaph for the Elm (1984), about the demise of the English elm – which had been decimated by Dutch elm disease – Tony’s solution was this graceful silhouette of a dying elm against the night sky.
Royal Mail Christmas stamps 1992. Photographed by Tony Evans designed by Carroll, Dempsey & Thirkell
Iain Crockart, now a successful photographer, was a designer back in the early days at my old company Carroll, Dempsey Thirkell. While with us Iain recalls working on a Christmas set of stamps for Royal Mail with Tony Evans.
“They featured the stained glass windows of Karl Parsons, the shoot meant having scaffolding and lighting rigged up just inches away from these glass masterpieces in churches in the south of England, Tony was such a gentle, careful and precise man that there was never any danger of a calamity. He gave me a signed copy of his book, The English Sunrise, a book without words, it is a visual collection of the sun motif in architecture, doors, windows, gates, tea cosies, signage, handbags etc, etc... it is a treasured possession.”
The English Sunrise earned Tony Evans and designer David Hillman a D&AD Gold Award in 1973
Later in his career, Tony became increasingly interested in ecology, books and stamps. My old business partner Nicholas Thirkell worked with him on The Illustrated Lark Rise to Candleford.
Goldfish for Michael Wolff 1985
Michael Wolff, a close friend of Tony's, had him photograph a goldfish as a symbol for his design consultancy. Michael recalls that he and Tony spent a lot of time selecting just the right goldfish. Having got the star of the picture everything else had to be perfect. A super-purity glass tank which took four weeks to make. Then a special filter to keep the water crystal clear to match the glass. On the shoot day, the goldfish looked poorly and lacking in personality. After several hours, the shoot was abandoned leaving Michael feeling very disappointed. Tony went back home to Wales where he revived the spirits of the depressed looking goldfish and a little later Michael received a shot that was beyond his expectations.
RSPCA stamps for Royal Mail 1990.
There were also a number of stamp sets for Royal Mail. Another of my old colleagues, writer Tim Shackleton, who worked with Tony a lot, said of him:
“I liked his outward calm, the feeling of someone going through well-tried routines. Heaven knows what was actually going on in his mind, but the work, at least, one senses the concern for simplicity and orderliness, had an almost monastic avoidance of the unnecessary.”
I think that sums up Tony Evans perfectly – he was always looking for perfection in simplicity.
Back in the mid-1970s, I commissioned him to produce covers for Richard Maybe’s Food for Free and Plants with a Purpose, both about foraging for goodies in the countryside around us.
There was no cheating for Tony – everything that appeared on that cover was genuinely foraged. I remember him always only presenting me with one carefully selected 35mm Kodachrome transparency. It was, of course, perfect. He went on to collaborate with Richard Maybe as co-author of The Flowering of Britain. It was always satisfying to initiate these connections.
Another set of Royal Mail stamps he produced on the topic of studio pottery involved him not only photographing the pots but also the potters themselves, which he achieved with great sensitivity.
Studio Pottery (1987) stamp issue by Tony, with the beautiful presentation pack designed by John Gorham
He was the first person I ever knew to recycle envelopes. He had a little rubber stamp made that said ‘Save trees and reuse this envelope’, at the time when all other photographers would always deliver their work or invoices in immaculate envelopes or boxes.
There is a whole other story to be told about Tony's creative contribution to the world of advertising, but that is for others to tell.
Sadly, Tony Evans died in 1992 after a long illness. He was a one-off, and there are too few of those around these days.
For more on John Gorham click here.
There is also a terrific book Tony Evans Taking His Time edited and designed by David Hillman