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HomeContentsThemes > Naturalism

Contents

Introduction
505.01   Naturalism and Pictorialism
Photographers
505.02   Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936)
505.03   Peter Henry Emerson: Marsh Leaves (1895)
This theme includes example sections and will be revised and added to as we proceed. Suggestions for additions, improvements and the correction of factual errors are always appreciated.
 
  
Introduction 
  
505.01   Naturalism >  Naturalism and Pictorialism 
  
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The technology that was available to the 19th century photographer necessitated slow exposure times[1] and this tended to promote the use of studio settings for art photography. This is not to say that landscapes were not taken from the earliest days of photography but there were largely documentary rather than artistic in intention and this difference is significant. Within the studio the light could be controlled, the subjects posed and time taken to achieve the ideal composition often based upon classical or allegorical themes and this was inspired by the genres of the contemporary art salons.
 
Between 1886 and 1895 Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936) published eight books or portfolios including:
Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, 1886
The Complete Angler, Vol. 1 & 2, 1888
Pictures of East Anglian Life, 1888
Wild Life on a Tidal Water, 1890
On English Lagoons, 1893
Marsh Leaves, 1895
Based on his understanding of human vision Peter Henry Emerson proposed that photography should mimic the characteristic of the eye with differential focus, the emphasis of the subject and the subordination of extraneous detail and control of the tonal range.[2] His photography in the late 1890s used this approach and he championed it in his book Naturalistic Photography for Students of Art (1888). Similar approaches using atmospheric effects and a softer approached were being used by the Impressionists for painting from the 1870s.
 
There was none of the rigidity of the studio in Emerson's Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads (1886) which included forty platinum prints of daily rural life in East Anglia (England). The images showed life as it was but at the same time the resulting images taken with a whole plate (6 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches) view camera have the beauty of a painting but lack the sentimentality that was common in contemporary Victorian painting.
 
Although in the angry arguments that followed his assertion that photography is a pictorial art he later changed his opinion and came to the conclusion that because of technical limitations photography was not an art. Having said that he had an immense influence on the way 'artist' photography would develop.[3] 
  
Photographers 
  
505.02   Naturalism >  Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936) 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
  
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Peter Henry Emerson was a motivated, argumentative and talented amateur photographer in Victorian England who attacked head on the staged portraiture of Henry Peach Robinson and Julia Margaret Cameron. He argued in his 1889 book Naturalistic Photography for Students of Art for Naturalism in photography that took the actual world that was in front of the camera.[4] The image should imitate what the eye actually saw and this was not hard edged but soft and slightly out of focus - this approach had outcomes - firstly it heralded in a type of photography that was distinct from the over sentimental paintings that were in vogue at the time and secondly the softer prints had a profound effect of the pictorialists that followed him. As he stated in a paper read to the Camera Club Conference on 26th March 1889:
The student will see it constantly advocated that every detail of a picture should be impartially rendered with a biting accuracy, and this in all cases. This biting sharpness being, as Mr. T. F. Goodall, the landscape-painter, says, "Quite fatal from the artistic standpoint." If the rendering were always given sharply, the work would belong to the category of topography or the knowledge of places, that is Science.[5]
Emerson argued that overall clarity was a scientific rather than an artistic aspiration. Science was a quest for "whole truth" and "facts" and art had no part in it. He changed his views on photography the following year and published the black bordered pamphlet The Death of Naturalistic Photography: A Renunciation (1890) that shocked the community by stating that "Photography is a very limited art".[6]
 
The influence of Peter Henry Emerson was profound and even though he renounced his approach in the preface to the 1893 edition of Pictorial Effect in Photography: Being Hints on Composition and Chiaroscuro for Photographers an influential book Henry Peach Robinson wrote:
About 1886, Dr. P.H. Emerson, reviving the subject, argued out, with unusual strength of conviction, doctrines he afterwards formally renounced. His ardent advocacy had, however, the merit of calling attention to the use of diffusion of focus, and, as usual with new or revised methods, the practice has been carried to excess by a few photographers; but others who have employed it with discretion have found it an aid to pictorial effect. [7]
 
  
505.03   Naturalism >  Peter Henry Emerson: Marsh Leaves (1895) 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
  
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In 1895 Peter Henry Emerson produced Marsh Leaves[8], the last of his volumes of photographs to be published. Smaller in format than the early works, it is illustrated with sixteen photogravures. For On English Lagoons and Marsh Leaves Emerson did, as he claimed he would do, make all his own photogravure plates, finally freeing himself from commercial engravers.
 
Many of the photographs in this last book demonstrate that he was no longer exclusively concerned with the direct transcribing of perception. Several are taken with a lens of relatively long focal length, resulting in a distant, two-dimensional view quite different from unaided human vision. He was using, to borrow a phrase from Aaron Scharf[9], ‘the vocabulary and syntax’ of photography. It is possible that, released by his "Renunciation" from the requirement to follow artistic conventions, Emerson at last felt free to discover what photography itself had to offer.
 
It is tempting to see, in Emerson’s last published photographs, the first suggestions that he had begun to adopt an approach and a working practice that were closer to the twentieth century than to the nineteenth, and it is certainly true that he maintained a keen interest in the most recent technology. No photograph he took after the mid-nineties has been identified, however, so as far as posterity is concerned, his career as a photographer ended in 1895.
 
The distinctive characteristics of Emerson's later work have been noted by other writers, notably Ian Jeffrey (1989)[10] and Mark Durden (1994)[11].
 
The 16 photogravures in Marsh Leaves are:
I A Winter's Sunrise
II The Lone Lagoon
III The Fetters of Winter
IV A Waterside Inn
V A Winter Pastoral
VI Marsh Weeds
VII Gnarled Thorn-Trees
VIII The Misty River
IX Bleak Winter
X The Waking River
XI The Bridge
XII The Snow Garden
XIII A Corner of the Farm-Yard
XIV Rime Crystals
XV The Lonely Fisher
XVI The Last Gate
[Courtesy of David Stone] 
  
   Peter Henry  Emerson Marsh Leaves 
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Footnotes 
  
  1. Λ Exposure times in the nineteenth century were not as short as is commonly believed and by 1846 J.E. Mayall was able to take Daguerreotypes with exposure of 3-9 seconds (Beaumont Newhall, 1976, The Daguerreotype in America, (New York: Dover Publications, Inc.) [3rd revised edition]) and so the technology was well able to take landscapes early on. 
      
  2. Λ Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) had been using a similar approach in her portraits from the 1860s. 
      
  3. Λ P.H. Emerson, 1888, Naturalistic Photography for Students of Art, (New York: Scovill & Adams); Nancy Newhall, 1975, P. H. Emerson: The Fight for Photography as a Fine Art, (New York: Aperture); John Taylor, 2006, The Old Order and the New: P. H. Emerson and Photography, 1885-1895, (Prestel) 
      
  4. Λ P.H. Emerson, 1888, Naturalistic Photography for Students of Art, (New York: Scovill & Adams); Nancy Newhall, 1975, P. H. Emerson: The Fight for Photography as a Fine Art, (New York: Aperture); John Taylor, 2006, The Old Order and the New: P. H. Emerson and Photography, 1885-1895, (Prestel) 
      
  5. Λ P.H. Emerson, 1890, Naturalistic Photography for Students of Art, (London: S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington), Second edition. Appendix II, Science and Art" which was a paper read at the Camera Club Conference, held in the rooms of the Society of Arts, London, on March 26th, 1889. 
      
  6. Λ Emerson's 1890 renunciation must have come as something of a shock to his London publisher S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington as they published a second edition of Naturalistic Photography for Students of Art the same year. The second edition included an appendix "Science and Art" which was a paper read at the Camera Club Conference, held in the rooms of the Society of Arts, London, on March 26th, 1889. 
      
  7. Λ The quote is taken from the preface to the 1893 edition.
     
    H.P. Robinson, 1869, Pictorial Effect in Photography: Being Hints on Composition and Chiaroscuro for Photographers. To which is added a chapter on Combination Printing, (London: Piper & Carter) [British editions: 1869, 1879, 1881, 1893.; American: 1881, 1892; French: 1885; German:1886. Reprinted with an introduction by Robert A. Sobieszek (Pawley: Helios, 1971)] 
      
  8. Λ P.H. Emerson, 1895, Marsh Leaves, (London: D. Nutt) 
      
  9. Λ Aaron Scharf, 1986, ‘P. H. Emerson: Naturalist and Iconoclast‘, in Neil McWilliam & Veronica Sekules (eds.), Life and Landscape: P. H. Emerson: Art and Photography in East Anglia, 1885-1900, pp. 21-33 
      
  10. Λ Ian Jeffrey, 1989, ‘Emerson Overturned; On English Lagoons and Marsh Leaves‘, in Weaver, Mike (ed.), British Photography in the Nineteenth Century, (Cambridge University Press) 
      
  11. Λ Mark Durden, 1994, Autumn, ‘Peter Henry Emerson, The Limits of Representation‘, History of Photography, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 281-284 
      

alan@luminous-lint.com

 
  

HomeContents > Further research

 
  
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General reading 
  
Lukacher, Brian, 1994, ‘Powers of Sight: Robinson, Emerson, and the Polemics of Pictorial Photography‘, in Ellen Handy (ed.), Pictorial Effect Naturalistic Vision: The Photographs and Theories of Henry Peach Robinson and Peter Henry Emerson, pp. 29-51 [Δ
  
Taylor, John, 1992, ‘Aristocrats of Anthropology: A Study of P. H. Emerson and Other Tourists of the Norfolk Broads‘, Image, vol. 35, no. 1/2, pp. 3-24 [Δ
  
 
  
Readings on, or by, individual photographers 
  
Peter Henry Emerson 
  
Durden, Mark, 1994, Autumn, ‘Peter Henry Emerson, The Limits of Representation‘, History of Photography, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 281-284 [Δ
  
Emerson, P.H., 1886, May, ‘Photography as a Pictorial Art‘, Amateur Photographer [Δ
  
Emerson, P.H., 1888, Naturalistic Photography for Students of Art, (New York: Scovill & Adams) [Reprinted in Peter Henry Emerson, 1973, Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art & The Death of Naturalistic Photography, (Arno)] [Δ
  
Emerson, P.H., 1890, August, ‘Rejoinder‘, Photographic Art Journal, vol. 3, no. 34, p. 142 [Δ
  
Emerson, P.H., 1973, Naturalistic Photography for Students of Art, (New York: Arno) [Δ
  
Emerson, Peter Henry, 1890, The Death of Naturalistic Photography: A Renunciation, (London: privately published) [The famous black-bordered pamphlet renouncing Naturalism. Reprinted in Peter Henry Emerson, 1973, Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art & The Death of Naturalistic Photography, (Arno)] [Δ
  
Emerson, PH & Goodall, TF, 1884-1886, Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, (Dundee: Valentine) [Δ
  
Jeffrey, Ian, 1984, ‘Peter Henry Emerson: Art and Solitude‘, in Mark Haworth-Booth (ed.), The Golden Age of British Photography 1839-1900 [Δ
  
Jeffrey, Ian, 1989, ‘Emerson Overturned; On English Lagoons and Marsh Leaves‘, in Mike Weaver (ed.), British Photography in the Nineteenth Century, (Cambridge University Press) [Δ
  
McWilliam, Neil & Sekules, Veronica (eds.), 1986, Life and Landscape: P. H. Emerson: Art and Photography in East Anglia, 1885-1900, (Sainsbury: Sainsbury Center for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia) [Δ
  
Newhall, Nancy, 1975, P. H. Emerson: The Fight for Photography as a Fine Art, (New York: Aperture) [Δ
  
Peterson, Christian A., 2008, Peter Henry Emerson and American Naturalistic Photography, (Minneapolis Institute of Arts) isbn-10: 0912964987 isbn-13: 978-0912964980 [Δ
  
Scharf, Aaron, 1986, ‘P. H. Emerson: Naturalist and Iconoclast‘, in Neil McWilliam & Veronica Sekules (eds.), 1986, Life and Landscape: P. H. Emerson: Art and Photography in East Anglia, 1885-1900, (Sainsbury: Sainsbury Center for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia), pp. 21-33 [Δ
  
Taylor, John, 2006, The Old Order and the New: P.H. Emerson and Photography, 1885-1895, (Prestel) isbn-10: 3791336991 isbn-13: 978-3791336992 [Δ
  
Turner, Peter & Wood, Richard, 1974, P. H. Emerson: Photographer of Norfolk, (London: Gordon Fraser) [Δ
  
Emerson & Goodall 
  
Emerson, PH & Goodall, TF, 1884-1886, Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, (Dundee: Valentine) [Δ
  
Thomas Frederick Goodall 
  
Emerson, PH & Goodall, TF, 1884-1886, Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, (Dundee: Valentine) [Δ
  
Nancy Newhall 
  
Newhall, Nancy, 1975, P. H. Emerson: The Fight for Photography as a Fine Art, (New York: Aperture) [Δ
  
Henry Peach Robinson 
  
Handy, Ellen (ed.), 1994, Pictorial Effect, Naturalistic Vision: The Photographs and Theories of Henry Peach Robinson and Peter Henry Emerson, (Norfolk, VA: Chrysler Museum) [Δ
  
 
  
If you feel this list is missing a significant book or article please let me know - Alan - alan@luminous-lint.com 
  

HomeContentsPhotographers > Photographers worth investigating

 
Peter Henry Emerson  (1856-1936) • Emerson & Goodall • Thomas Frederick Goodall  (check)
HomeStyles and movements > Naturalism 
 
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HomeContentsOnline exhibitions > Naturalism

Please submit suggestions for Online Exhibitions that will enhance this theme.
Alan - alan@luminous-lint.com

 
  
ThumbnailNaturalism 
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Released (July 6, 2006)
ThumbnailPeter Henry Emerson - Marsh Leaves 
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Released (February 6, 2011)
 
  

HomeVisual indexes > Naturalism

Please submit suggestions for Visual Indexes to enhance this theme.
Alan - alan@luminous-lint.com

 
  
   Photographer 
  
ThumbnailPeter Henry Emerson: Marsh Leaves 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailPeter Henry Emerson: Pictures of East Anglian Life 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailPeter Henry Emerson: Rime Crystals 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailPeter Henry Emerson: Rural landscapes 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
 
  
   Still thinking about these... 
  
ThumbnailMovements: Naturalism 
 
 
  
Refreshed: 18 August 2014, 02:04
 
  
 
  
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