Peter Henry Emerson (British, born Cuba, 18561936)
Platinum print; 7 3/16 x 11 7/16 in. (18.3 x 29.1 cm)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1994 (1994.520.2)
P. H. Emerson immersed himself in the life and work of East Anglia, passing on his expertise in more than a half-dozen books illustrated with platinum prints or photogravures during his ten-year photographic career. Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads (2008.669), in which this image was one of forty plates, was the artist's first demonstration of the naturalism that he advocated for photography. While seeking the same goal as his ideological opposite, Henry Peach Robinsonrecognition of photography as a fine artEmerson drew his subjects not from literary narratives, but rather from an examination, at once both highly personal and anthropological, of the environment and daily rituals of rural life in East Anglia, the marshy coastal region northeast of London. Adamantly, even vociferously, opposed to Robinson's artificial manipulation of the medium, Emerson admitted into his own photographic vocabulary only selective focus and the careful gradation of tones, subtly rendered here by the platinum process. He looked to the work of painters for his aesthetic models, Jean-François Millet and Jules Bastien-Lepage in France and, at home, the painters of the New English Art Club, including his collaborator on Life and Landscape, Thomas Goodall. In breaking the existing molds of ambitious photographysharp, straightforward documentation and contrived tableauxand opting for a more impressionist vision, Emerson blazed the trail that would be followed by the American Pictorialists, the Photo-Secession, and modern photography.