Finding Emerson

A new exhibition of photography at the University of East Anglia

'Arcade' by Amy Botfield

'Arcade' by Amy Botfield

A new exhibition of photography is open at the University of East Anglia. Finding Emerson sees contemporary photographs of Great Yarmouth displayed alongside images of East Anglia by pioneering Victorian photographer Peter Henry Emerson at the Enterprise Centre on campus.

Life through our own eyes

The images in Finding Emerson were taken by residents of Great Yarmouth who took to the streets of the town as part of the 2021 Finding Emerson Photo Festival to snap shots of their view of where they live.

Photographers from all walks of life, whether professional, amateur, student, artist, or just passionate observers of the world we inhabit, were welcome to submit their work. Each photograph was considered on its own merit with the judges choosing six winners. All of the photographs submitted are now in the People's Archive of Great Yarmouth, a digital repository of photography, celebrating the diverse nature of the place and its people.

The wide range of pictures show a couple enjoying an ice cream on a tandem mobility scooter, a driver sitting in a pink hatchback and a woman posing with her dogs on South Quay. They highlight local people and scenes which show the familiar, the funny and the interesting from behind a camera lens.

The exhibition has been created by Original Projects, an artist-led organisation based in Great Yarmouth, and Utter Nonsense, a body inspiring more people to explore the language of photography, with the support of CreativeUEA, a new interdisciplinary research theme at the University. Many of the photographs were originally displayed at the Finding Emerson Photo Festival, a biennial event committed to bringing a new understanding to photography and animating the extraordinary legacy of one of Britain's greatest photographers, Peter Henry Emerson.  

Emerson, the forgotten trailblazer

Peter Henry Emerson was a Victorian photographer, artist, naturalist, physician and writer who was drawn to rural subjects. He was born in Cuba in 1856 and moved to England as a teenager, capturing images around Great Yarmouth and the Norfolk Broads between 1885 and 1895. He was fascinated by East Anglia's traditional ways of life and travelled extensively across the region. Emerson believed photography was an independent artform, but his views were dismissed by other artists who viewed it as a hobby or a trade and as inferior to painting.

With a firm belief in naturalistic photography and truth to nature, Emerson railed against his contemporaries and their studio constructs - that often included staged rustic scenes featuring models in costume - that fed into idealised Victorian notions of the countryside. He went on to write the first manual on straight photography as an art in its own right, that was likened to “a bombshell dropped at a tea party" by influential American art critic Nancy Newall. He was also one of the first photographers to combine text and image in his publications.

He died in 1936 all but forgotten by the art world he ignited in the 1880s. It took until 1975 and the publication of a book Newhall, P.H.Emerson: The Fight for Photography as a Fine Art, for the world to realise that he was the great trailblazer of modern photography and how, through his determination and weight of belief, he had changed the perception of photography for all time.

On display in the exhibition are a selection of works from two of Emerson’s photographic portfolios, Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, and, Wild Life on a Tidal Water. They highlight his dedication to depicting life as it was in the 19thcentury by embedding himself in the landscape of East Anglia and capturing what he encountered. There are images of marsh farms, the harvesting of reed beds, smelters, fishermen and eel catchers as well as house boats, cottages, wherries and water mills. 

'Ricking the Reed' by Peter Henry Emerson, from Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, 1887

'Ricking the Reed' by Peter Henry Emerson, from Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, 1887

'Rope Spinning' by Peter Henry Emerson, from Wildlife on a Tidal Water, 1890

'Rope Spinning' by Peter Henry Emerson, from Wildlife on a Tidal Water, 1890

'Taking Up the Eel Net' by Peter Henry Emerson, from Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, 1887

'Taking Up the Eel Net' by Peter Henry Emerson, from Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, 1887

'The Old Order and the New' by Peter Henry Emerson, from Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, 1887

'The Old Order and the New' by Peter Henry Emerson, from Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, 1887

'A corner of Yarmouth' by Peter Henry Emerson, from Wildlife on a Tidal Water, 1890

'A corner of Yarmouth' by Peter Henry Emerson, from Wildlife on a Tidal Water, 1890

The next Finding Emerson Photo Festival will take place in 2023. Devised by Utter Nonsense and Original Projects, the Festival’s home is Great Yarmouth, the town immortalised by the pioneering photography of Peter Henry Emerson.

See more of last year's submissions below.

'Cruising' by Jonathan Bundock  

'Cruising' by Jonathan Bundock  

'Wobbly World' by, Karen Hall

'Wobbly World' by, Karen Hall

'Mobility made for two' by Adam Davis

'Mobility made for two' by Adam Davis

'Untitled' by Robin Knight

'Untitled' by Robin Knight

Item 1 of 3

'Wobbly World' by, Karen Hall

'Wobbly World' by, Karen Hall

'Mobility made for two' by Adam Davis

'Mobility made for two' by Adam Davis

'Untitled' by Robin Knight

'Untitled' by Robin Knight

Finding Emerson is at the Enterprise Centre, University of East Anglia,
Norwich Research Park, Norwich, NR4 7TJ
Free Admission
Monday - Friday
9:30 - 16:30
2 November - 16 December 2022

'White Shelter' by Andrew Midgley

'White Shelter' by Andrew Midgley

CreativeUEA is an interdisciplinary research theme at the University of East Anglia which builds on a longstanding history of creativity and innovation. Find out more www.uea.ac.uk/creative