Gathering Water–Lilies, 1885–86
Peter Henry Emerson (English, born Cuba, 1856–1936); Thomas Frederick Goodall (British, 1857–1944)
From Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, London: Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington, 1886
Platinum print from glass negative; 7 3/4 x 11 3/8 in. (19.8 x 29 cm))
Gift of Joyce F. Menschel, 2008 (2008.669)
P. H. Emerson's work grew 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. In the course of his ten-year photographic career, he passed on his expertise in more than a half-dozen books illustrated with platinum prints or photogravures, but his first publication, Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, remained his most lavish production and the one in which text and image are most coherently integrated. With its forty platinum prints from glass negatives, it is a landmark in the history of photographically illustrated books.
For his aesthetic models, Emerson looked to the work of French painters Jean-François Millet and Jules Bastien-Lepage and the painters of the New English Art Club, including his collaborator on Life and Landscape, Thomas Goodall. By breaking the existing molds of ambitious photography—sharp, straightforward documentation on the one hand and contrived tableaux on the other—and opting for a more impressionist or, in his words, "naturalistic" style that more closely simulated human vision, Emerson blazed the trail that would be followed by the American Pictorialists, the Photo-Secession, and modern photography.