Emerson bought his first camera in 1882, at the age of 26, and took his last photograph in 1895. In that period he published eight albums of photographs, wrote an exacting treatise for photography as a fine art, the Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art, repudiated it all two years later in the Death of Naturalistic Photography and died forty years after taking his last photograph, in 1936. The art world had long forgotten the uproar he had created in the 1880's and few noticed his passing. It took until the publication of Nancy Newhall's book, P.H.Emerson, The Fight for Photography as a Fine Art in 1975, to realise he was one of the great pioneers of modern photography.
"Who else, before, had proclaimed that photography was an independent and potentially great art form capable of expressing thoughts and emotions beyond the scope of the other and older art forms? It was Emerson who was the first to work out an aesthetic based on its unique powers and its then limitations. It was he who wrote the first manual on straight photography as an art in its own right" ... "He was a pioneer in the meduim of words-and-images. Together [his] albums and portfolios are a remarkable interpretation of a place and its people, worthy to rank alongside Atget's Paris, the geological surveys of the American West and the Farm Security Administration's America in the 1930's." - Nancy Newhall.
As a boy growing up on the Norfolk Broads, Emerson's legacy was writ large and with my current work, 'The Great Yarmouth Project', it has been a good opportunity to re-visit his album of photogravures and writings, Wild Life on a Tidal Water, set in Great Yarmouth and Breydon Water and completed in partnership with his good friend and painter, T.F.Goodall. [Wild Life on a Tidal Water - The Adventures of a House Boat and her Crew was published in 1890]
P.H.Emerson, The Ferry, 1887, from Wild Life on a Tidal Water
P.H.Emerson, Breydon Smelters, 1887, from Wild Life on a Tidal Water
P.H.Emerson, In a Sail Loft, 1887, from Wild Life on a Tidal Water
P.H.Emerson, Rope Spinning, 1887, from Wild Life on a Tidal Water
P.H.Emerson, A Yarmouth Row, 1887, from Wild Life on a Tidal Water