Musée d'Orsay: "Photography Not Art"Naturalism according to P.H. Emerson (1886-1895)

"Photography Not Art"
Naturalism according to P.H. Emerson (1886-1895)

Peter Henry EmersonThe Lone Lagoon© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
In 1895, only ten years after abandoning medicine to take up photography, Peter Henry Emerson published Marsh Leaves, his last illustrated book. Today it is difficult to imagine the feelings these landscapes inspired in readers of the time – images as uncontrived and evanescent as those in his first collection, Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads published in 1886, were a concentrated representation of rural life.

There was a clear development between the two books from the pictorial model of Jean-François Millet to a style influenced by James Abbott Mc Neill Whistler and Japanese art, from a documentary approach to pure poetry. Although we in the 21st century can immediately appreciate the formal radicalism that Emerson finally achieved, it is more difficult for us to imagine the fierce aesthetic debates that his first masterstroke aroused at the time.
His writings, as well as formulating Naturalistic photography, are a reminder that below the calm waters of this timeless vision of rural England lurked one of the most virulent polemicists in the history of photography.


Thomas Galifot, curator at the Musée d'Orsay

16 March - 29 August 2010
Musée d'Orsay

Rooms 67 and 68

Admission with the museum ticket

Enlarge font size Reduce font size Tip a friend Print