P.H. Emerson, Pictures of East Anglian life


The photographs in this book, and several others published by P.H. Emerson between 1887 and 1895, changed the way photography was perceived in the late 19th century. Whereas some photographers imitated painting, using costumes and artificial poses, Emerson emphasised verisimilitude, or naturalism, claiming that photography could be ‘an independent art’ with its own values. Here, he aimed to produce ‘truthful pictures of East Anglian peasant and fisherfolk life’. The photogravures were etched on copper and were ‘with one or two exceptions, untouched, so they may be relied upon as true to Nature’ (Preface). It is obvious nonetheless that Emerson was applying traditional artistic values to the composition, texture and mood of his images. Later he dramatically revised his views, deciding that untouched photography was not ‘art’ at all.



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