Peter Henry Emerson
Plate XXII Marshman going to cut Schoof-Stuff by Peter Henry Emerson
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Platinum print mounted to period board with original interleaving sheet with title, in ink, au recto, hinged to period board
Annotated, in pencil, "713", "X46", "-1350", au mount verso
From Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, circa 1887
Born in Cuba and raised there and in the United States before moving to England as a teenager, physician and scientist Peter Henry Emerson took up photography at age 26. Often described as a difficult zealot, he vocally championed a naturalistic approach to imagemaking. He favored rural subjects presented in a simple, direct manner. Emerson’s influential 1889 book Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art outlined his thesis that photography’s ability to record nature truthfully was its most expressive one. He argued that the photograph should imitate nature rather than alter it.
Emerson was a passionate lecturer and writer about photography, never mincing words and thus earning as many foes as supporters. He was an early and tireless champion of photography as a fine art, and he became the unofficial godfather of the Photo-Secessionist movement, founded by Alfred Stieglitz in 1902.
– Source: The J. Paul Getty Museum
In 1885 the photographer Peter Henry Emerson (1856–1936) and the painter Thomas Frederick Goodall (1855–1944) embarked on a project to photograph the people and landscape of the Norfolk Broads. Emerson was in the county to photograph birds for a planned ornithology book, and Goodall was already on the spot, painting in his houseboat studio. His subjects included his fiancée and her family, who were local people: Nancy and her father pose in The Bow Net 1885–6 and associated photographic studies.
From their collaboration came the 40 photographs published in 1887 in Lifeand Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, a volume with a charming cover drawn by Goodall. This part of eastern England was becoming a popular destination for visitors, thanks in part to new train links with London, and with Cambridge (where Emerson had done his university degree). The tourists had a number of illustrated publications in which the Broads were portrayed as a kind of idyll apart from the modern world. Yet isolation meant hardship for rural people, whose traditional economies were in decline. Emerson and Goodall accompanied the pictures of the reed harvesters and marsh-men (and women) with essays on the life and customs that were disappearing.
Naturalism and impressionism emphasized an attention to observed nature, seen and painted on the spot, not constructed in the studio. Yet Emerson and Goodall’s pictures are not candid documentary views. The figures are carefully composed, as Emerson’s large-format camera required timed exposures.
The platinum prints in Life and Landscape are subtle and beautiful, but they were labour-intensive and costly, and Emerson used the photomechanical processes of photogravure and half-tone printing for his other photographically illustrated books. Goodall contributed to four of those publications, but Life and Landscape is an extraordinary publication, so valuable that relatively few complete copies remain: many volumes were taken apart in the 1970s and 1980s and the precious platinum prints sold individually.
– Source: Tate Britain