• Mark Cator

Finding Emerson


Emerson experienced the lives of those he photographed at first hand, spending far more time in listening to their stories and observing their daily routines than he would photographing them. Although he saw his work as art photography, his output in the form of extensive portfolios with descriptive text was more in the realm of concerned documentary photographer.

He was tireless in his pursuit, rigorous in his determination and his words and images speak not only for his supremacy as an artist but for those he photographed, and their way of life. Never before had text and image been paired together with equal attention given to both and in the ten years between 1885 and 1895 he produced eight astonishing portfolios of photographs, blending the scientific with the artistic, his call of “truth to nature” and in doing so launched photography itself on to a trajectory from which it never looked back.

Peter Henry Emerson, Taking up the Eel Net, from Life & Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, 1887

Peter Henry Emerson, Rope Spinning, from Wilf Life on a Tidal Water, 1890

Peter Henry Emerson, Breydon Smelters, from Wild Life on a Tidal Water, 1890