Photo Of The Day

1887 "Setting up the Bow-Net." IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

1887. “Setting up the Bow-Net.” IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

1885-1888

Life on the Norfolk Broads

Idyllic Images of the Waterways of Eastern England

Peter Henry Emerson promoted photography as an independent art form, rather than one that is dependent on the tradition of painting. He developed a theory of naturalistic photography’ and took photographs of working figures in natural settings, particularly in East Anglia.

Peter Henry Emerson was born Pedro Enrique Emerson in Casa Grande, La Palma, Cuba, on 13 May 1856, to a British mother and an American father of significant means. Following a brief period in the United States, the family went to England, where Peter Henry was sent to Cranleigh, a public school in Surrey. After a short time at King’s College, London (1874), he studied Medicine at Clare College, Cambridge (1874-79), and, embarking then on a career as a gentleman of letters, first bought a camera at the age of 26 to aid him with one of his hobbies, ornithology. However, he became completely devoted to photography, and rose to become one of the most influential photographers in nineteenth-century Britain.

Although Emerson essentially remained an amateur, he did publish eight books during his lifetime such as Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads (1886) and Pictures of East Anglian Life (1888), and exhibited regularly until 1900. Much of his work focused on the rural life of East Anglia, and should be seen as a life- long anthropological study of the region’s people and traditions. This scientific approach to his photography tallies with his reputation as an academic with a fearsome intellect, and he became a well-known, somewhat notorious figure in the photographic circles at the end of the 1880s.

One of the notable characteristics of Emerson’s work was its simple technique and brutal honesty it was this that caused ruptures in the photographic industry at the time. British photography had long been trying to achieve an equal academic reputation to painting and in Emerson’s eyes, through the work of pictorialist photographers such as Henry Peach Robinson, had grown complex, derivative, and over-produced – some of Robinson’s images were compilations of up to 20 negatives. Upon his election to the Council of the Photographic Society in 1886, Emerson began a series of public lectures denouncing this method. His book Naturalistic Photography (1889) further expounded his views, celebrating a simpler, one-shot technique that celebrated the photograph for what it was. The effect of the book was described at the time as like dropping a bomb shell at a tea party’ Emerson was advocating a completely new approach to photography.

The honesty behind Emerson’s work was also reflected in subject matter that featured real, working people rather than staged models in costumes.

Influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, he sought to photograph traditional rural ways that were threatened by the Industrial Revolution. However, Emerson also firmly believed that photography was more than just a mechanical reproduction and had appeal as an artistic pursuit. In particular he taught that any photograph’s focus should be kept to just one focal plane, to mimic the human eye. In this sense he sought to show photography’s impressionistic potential, as long as it was achieved in a simple way. To many this was seen as doubly heretical, as photographers had long celebrated the camera’s unique ability to get everything in focus.

Emerson’s artistic standpoint was in keeping with contemporaneous advancements in camera technology, which made outdoor photography quicker and more practical. It did however cause significant controversy and long-term, heated debate with Henry Peach Robinson and his supporters, dealt out in personal exchanges, books, pamphlets and lectures. An irascible, vitriolic figure, Emerson eventually tired of the endless bickering and dramatically renounced photography a year later in 1890 with the publication of The Death of Naturalistic Photography. For such a successful and highly regarded photographer, it was seen as an unlikely and unnecessary admission of defeat particularly as his work spoke so clearly for his cause. From 1900, he ceased exhibiting or publishing his work altogether, although he continued to take photographs for personal pleasure until he died. He also continued to influence the photography world, and in 1925 began awarding Emerson’ medals to photographers that he admired. Amongst the recipients were Nadar, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Alfred Stieglitz.

He died at his home in Falmouth, Cornwall, on 12 May 1936.

Emerson has been called the father of art photography’, as he highlighted its potential as an art form in its own right, and he left a significant mark on the history of the medium. He is also seen as an early and much admired pioneer of unsentimental photography, a calling that touched most of the twentieth-century masters that followed him.

1888 "A Garden End." IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

1888
“A Garden End.”
IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

2003-5001_3_21476_20, 22/7/04, 4:30 pm, 8C, 4734x4022 (702+2107), 100%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R26.5, G28.1, B72.7

2003-5001_2_21514, 3/8/04, 3:13 pm, 8C, 5510x3672 (921+2856), 112%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R26.5, G28.4, B72.4

1887 "The Skirt of the Village." IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

1887
“The Skirt of the Village.”
IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

?A Suffolk Dike?, 1887.

?A Reed-Cutter at Work?, 1886.

1990-5037-P18/8/5, 6/10/04, 11:32 am, 8C, 4856x3848 (1088+2705), 112%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R29.7, G31.5, B76.7

2003-5001_3_23350_179, 18/1/06, 3:54 pm, 8C, 4352x5076 (603+1147), 88%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R42.7, G26.5, B44.7

2003-5001_3_23350_157, 18/1/06, 12:24 pm, 8C, 4352x5076 (603+1119), 88%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R42.7, G26.5, B44.7

Misc_00004_4, 2/3/06, 11:34 am, 8C, 4237x5492 (1939+2341), 138%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R41.3, G25.9, B44.3

2003-5001_3_21475_50, 7/2/05, 1:51 pm, 8C, 4628x5570 (318+737), 88%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R26.1, G28.7, B73.7

2003-5001_2_23385, 3/2/06, 10:58 am, 8C, 6140x3835 (814+3146), 125%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R42.6, G25.2, B44.6

1887 "The Poacher." IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

1887
“The Poacher.”
IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

2003-5001_2_21519, 5/10/04, 3:57 pm, 8C, 4858x3646 (1059+2840), 112%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R29.8, G31.4, B76.7

2003-5001_3_21476_16, 22/7/04, 4:20 pm, 8C, 4814x3728 (226+1738), 88%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R26.5, G28.1, B72.7

2003-5001_2_21512, 3/8/04, 2:23 pm, 8C, 5634x3478 (378+3072), 112%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R26.8, G27.9, B72.5

1887 "Poling the Marsh Hay." IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

1887
“Poling the Marsh Hay.”
IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

2003-5001_2_21510, 3/8/04, 12:03 pm, 8C, 5642x3754 (690+3036), 112%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R26.5, G28.4, B72.4

2003-5001_2_21509, 3/8/04, 11:51 am, 8C, 4824x3636 (480+2591), 100%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R26.5, G28.4, B72.4

2003-5001_2_21508, 3/8/04, 11:39 am, 8C, 5574x3578 (596+3090), 112%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R26.5, G28.4, B72.4

2003-5001_2_21496, 22/7/04, 9:44 am, 8C, 4970x3758 (516+2364), 100%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R26.6, G28.2, B72.5

2003-5001_2_21494, 21/7/04, 3:02 pm, 8C, 5430x3902 (579+2821), 112%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R26.6, G28.1, B72.6

1887 "Snipe Shooting." IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

1887
“Snipe Shooting.”
IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

2003-5001_2_21492, 21/7/04, 2:32 pm, 8C, 5500x3944 (753+2740), 112%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R26.6, G28.1, B72.6

2003-5001_3_21491, 21/7/04, 1:35 pm, 8C, 5580x3812 (633+2767), 112%, bent 6 stops, 1/12 s, R26.6, G28.1, B72.6

2003-5001_3_21490, 21/7/04, 1:49 pm, 8C, 5554x3300 (753+3172), 112%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R26.6, G28.1, B72.6

2003-5001_2_21487, 22/7/04, 2:32 pm, 8C, 6000x2988 (0+2704), 100%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R26.5, G28.1, B72.7

1887 "Gathering Water Lilies." IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

1887
“Gathering Water Lilies.”
IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

2003-5001_3_21498_2, 12/8/04, 11:59 am, 8C, 5516x3394 (1449+3403), 125%, bent 6 stops, 1/12 s, R29.5, G30.7, B76.0

2003-5001_3_21498_144a, 30/8/05, 1:52 pm, 8C, 3832x4748 (471+585), 75%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R45.3, G27.7, B46.6

2003-5001_3_21475_200, 1/3/05, 2:55 pm, 8C, 4258x5128 (376+895), 88%, bent 6 stops, 1/15 s, R27.2, G29.4, B74.1

1886 "Quanting the Marsh Hay." IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

1886
“Quanting the Marsh Hay.”
IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

1886 "The Haunt of the Pike." IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

1886
“The Haunt of the Pike.”
IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

1886 "The Old Order and the New." IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

1886
“The Old Order and the New.”
IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

1885 "A Sailing Match at Horning." IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

1885
“A Sailing Match at Horning.”
IMAGE: PETER HENRY EMERSON/ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/SSPL/GETTY IMAGES

Peter Henry Emerson | British photographer | Britannica.com

PETER HENRY EMERSON (1856-1936) | Prints …

Peter Henry Emerson | MoMA

Emerson & Naturalistic Photography – The Art of the …

Luminous-Lint – Photographer – Peter Henry Emerson

Peter Henry Emerson

Life on the Norfolk Broads

 


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  • Effluent

    Thanks for posting these lovely photos.
    Norfolk is the corner of England that one half of my faimilly lived in for many centuries, and, although I grew up in Kent, some of the older men who were still alive in my childhood looked much the same as the men in these phpotographs. The women, of course, had moved with the times, and dressed rather differently from their grandmothers.

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