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A major exhibition of the pioneering work of Peter Henry Emerson. The show explored Emerson's use of new techniques and technologies to record traditional East Anglian life at the end of the 19th century.

The Old Order and the New: Plate XII, Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, 1887, P H Emerson and T F Goodall © Science Museum Group collection
Plate XII, Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, 1887, P H Emerson and T F Goodall © Science Museum Group collection

Peter Henry Emerson (1856–1936) took photographs of labourers and fishermen on the rivers and Broads of Suffolk and Norfolk between 1885 and 1895. Emerson preferred pre-industrial ways of life to the new order, represented by steam-driven machines, which he felt destroyed traditional agriculture and opened up the region to tourists and mass production.

He aimed to preserve the old ways of country life by using new photographic methods and promoted a style of photography that looked realistic, or what he called 'naturalistic'. This meant using soft focus to create images of the world just as natural eyesight sees it. In order to print photographs in books and keep their high level of realism, he avoided cheap forms of mass production and used the new and expensive gravure photographic process.

Using photographs and ephemera drawn largely from the museum's collection, this exhibition set out set out to reassess the importance and context of Emerson's work. It was accompanied by a book, The Old Order and the New: P H Emerson and Photography, 1885–1895, published by Prestel Publishing Ltd.

This exhibition toured to the J. Paul Getty Museum, California and the Chrysler Museum of Art, Virginia.

Buy the book

The Old Order and the New: P H Emerson and Photography, 1885–1895