Although his pictures look romantic and pictorialist to us today, Peter Henry Emerson, a wealthy, intelligent, and eccentric photographer, clashed with the photographic establishment of his day in championing a more direct and naturalistic style. "Confessions" depicts and old woman and a young woman washing dishes in a fisherman's yard. (Note the similarities to this photo.) It was included in his book Pictures from Life in Field and Fen, now essentially unseen outside of museums.
The classic North American study of Emerson is by Nancy Newhall, wife of Beaumont. Beaumont Newhall, if you don't know the name, was the author of a longtime standard American history of photography (I'm not sure of this, but in 75 years I don't think it's ever been out of print) and the first Director of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art; but Nancy (who allegedly had an affair with Ansel Adams) was no slouch as a scholar herself. The two most readily available books about Emerson right now are John Taylor's 2006 book The Old Order And the New: P. H. Emerson And Photography, 1885–1895 and Christian A. Peterson's 2008 study Peter Henry Emerson and American Naturalistic Photography. The latter concentrates on Emerson's considerable influence on his younger admirers in America—one of whom was Edward S. Curtis, who we were discussing recently.
Emerson was related to the American transcendentalist and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson.
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A book of interest today:
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