Sunday, August 11, 2013

Peter Henry Emerson

'Coming Home from the Marshes', 1886

'Ricking the reed'

'Cutting Scoff Stuff'

'Towing the Reed', 1887

'During the Reed Harvest',1886

'A Rushy Shore'

'Gathering Waterlillies', East Anglia 1886

'Gunner Working up to Fowl'

'The Fowler's Return'


'Taking Up The Eel Net'

'An eel catchers home'

'A Norfolk Boat-Yard'

'A Broadman's Cottage'

'Breydon Smelter'

'A Misty Morning at Norwich'

'The Old Order and The New', 1886.

'Blackshore, River Blythe', Suffolk, 1888

'On The Yare Near Cantley',  circa 1886

'The Lone Lagoon', 1895

Images may be subject to copyright.

I stumbled across this groundbreaking photographer while researching landscape photography several months ago. After poking around a bit I was quite surprised that I'd never heard anything about him, as he's so highly regarded as a pioneer of photography as an art form. It seems he worked primarily in the Norfolk Broads and East Anglia. His work abounds in scenes of the 'common folk' and work on the water, but is not limited to that, which you might assume from my selections.

I'll defer to Wikipedia for his story:

Peter Henry Emerson (13 May 1856 – 12 May 1936) was a British writer and photographer. His photographs are early examples of promoting photography as an art form. He is known for taking photographs that displayed natural settings and for his disputes with the photographic establishment about the purpose and meaning of photography.

Emerson was born on La Palma Estate, a sugar plantation near Encrucijada, Cuba  belonging to his American father, Henry Ezekiel Emerson and British mother, Jane, née Harris Billing. He was a distant relative of Samuel Morse and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He spent his early years in Cuba on his father's estate. During the American Civil War he spent some time at Wilmington, Delaware, but moved to England in 1869, after the death of his father. He was schooled at Cranleigh School where he was a noted scholar and athlete. He subsequently attended King's College London, before switching to Clare College, Cambridge in 1879 where he earned his medical degree in 1885.
Emerson was intelligent, well-educated and wealthy with a facility for clearly articulating his many strongly held opinions. In 1881 he married Miss Edith Amy Ainsworth and wrote his first book while on his honeymoon. The couple eventually had five children.

He bought his first camera in 1881 or 1882 to be used as a tool on bird-watching trips with his friend, the ornithologist A. T. Evans. In 1885 he was involved in the formation of the Camera Club of London, and the following year he was elected to the Council of the Photographic Society and abandoned his career as a surgeon to become a photographer and writer. As well as his particular attraction to nature he was also interested in billiards, rowing and meteorology.

Initially influenced by naturalistic French painting, he argued for similarly "naturalistic" photography and took photographs in sharp focus to record country life as clearly as possible. His first album of photographs, published in 1886, was entitled Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, and it consisted of 40 platinum prints that were informed by these ideas. Before long, however, he became dissatisfied with rendering everything in sharp focus, considering that the undiscriminating emphasis it gave to all objects was unlike the way the human eye saw the world.

He then experimented with soft focus, but was unhappy with the results that this gave too, experiencing difficulty with accurately recreating the depth and atmosphere which he saw as necessary to capture nature with precision. Despite his misgivings, he took many photographs of landscapes and rural life in the East Anglian fenlands and published seven further books of his photography through the next ten years. In the last two of these volumes, On English Lagoons (1893) and Marsh Leaves (1895), Emerson printed the photographs himself using photogravure, after having bad experiences with commercial printers.

During his life Emerson fought against the British photographic establishment on a number of issues. In 1889 he published a controversial and influential book Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art, in which he explained his philosophy of art and straightforward photography. The book was described by one writer as "the bombshell dropped at the tea party" because of the case it made that truthful and realistic photographs would replace contrived photography. This was a direct attack on the popular tradition of combining many photographs to produce one image that had been pioneered by O. G. Reijlander and Henry Peach Robinson in the 1850s. Some of Robinson's photographs were of twenty or more separate photographs combined to produce one image. This allowed the production of images that, especially in early days, could not have been produced indoors in low light, and it also made possible the creation of highly dramatic images, often in imitation of allegorical paintings. Emerson denounced this technique as false and claimed that photography should be seen as a genre of its own, not one that seeks to imitate other art forms.

All Emerson's own pictures were taken in a single shot and without retouching, which was another form of manipulation that he strongly disagreed with, calling it "the process by which a good, bad, or indifferent photograph is converted into a bad drawing or painting".
Emerson also believed that the photograph should be a true representation of that which the eye saw. Following contemporary optical theories, he produced photographs with one area of sharp focus while the remainder was unsharp. He vehemently pursued this argument about the nature of seeing and its representation in photography, to the discomfort of the photographic establishment.

Another of Emerson's passionate beliefs was that photography was an art and not a mechanical reproduction. An argument with the establishment ensued on this point as well, but Emerson found that his defence of photography as art failed, and he had to allow that photography was probably a form of mechanical reproduction. The pictures the Robinson school produced may have been "mechanical", but Emerson's may still be considered artistic, since they were not faithful reproductions of a scene but rather having depth as a result of his one-plane-sharp theory. When he lost the argument over the artistic nature of photography, Emerson did not publicise his photographic work but still continued to take photographs.

First published on 70.8% by Thomas Armstrong

Friday, August 2, 2013

HUZZAH! CW Morgan launched.

The Whaleboats dance and parade

Six whaleboats were present for the launch. Front row l to r: The Apprenticeshop, Great Lakes Boat Building School, and a boat from the Mystic collection, presumably a Willits Ansel build. Back row l to r: Rocking the Boat, Independence Seaport Museum and Independence Seaport Museum.

photo courtesy Wen Byar

Speaking of the Independence Seaport, here are volunteers John Schwarzenbach and Wen Byar, along with CEO John Brady.

Here's the crew of the Great Lakes boat ready to shove off.

Geoff McKonly, formerly of Rocking the Boat, was lead builder for their whaleboat. Here he's sending his crew off for the whaleboat parade.

In the foreground, the Apprenticeshop boat joins the two whaleboats from the ISM.

Rocking the Boat and Great Lakes dancing.

RTB and ISM have a dance.

The Mystic boat led the other five in a 'parade' to the 'Morgan' and back.

Brady et al en route.

The hardy crew of the Apprenticeshop boat. She was sailed and rowed from Rockland ME to Mystic.

Just prior to the ceremonies I had a sail in the catboat 'Breck Marshall'. Here we see the 'Morgan' and 'Sabino' from the water.

Stage set for the beginning of the proceedings. How massive she is.

Seated just behind the Morgan are the VIP's, and yes, it was hot!

Ric Burns gave the the keynote address, and as I'd expected, it was eloquent and spot on.
To his left is Steve White, President of Mystic Seaport. To the extreme right is Sarah Bullard, a descendant of CW Morgan.

Senator Richard Blumenthal read the U.S, Senate Resolution he co-crafted commemorating the launch.

Sarah Bullard 'christens' the launch with a bottle filled with waters collected from the seas the 'Morgan' sailed.

As the 'Morgan' is slowly lowered into the water, a fireship behind the 'Sabino' let go her spouts.

A great crowd on the water

And finally, she is in.

Huzzah! and Boom

The red white and blue

The 'Morgan' floats,

though not quite to her lines. She still has to be rigged and the added weight of spars and masts will bring here down to where she should be.

On Monday morning the 'Morgan' was towed a little further out into the Mystic River.

photo courtesy John Brady

All photos Thomas Armstrong unless otherwise noted

The morning was inauspicious. Raining. But by the time we had breakfasted, things were looking up, no rain and clearing skies, as they say, the 'Morgan' is a lucky boat. I was lucky as well, running into Dan McFadden communications director at Mystic as I entered the Seaport. He directed me to the dock alongside the 'LA Dunton' where the whaleboats were asssembling for a parade to the 'Morgan' and back. I rushed over to find all six of the project boats and a Mystic whaleboat rowing around the river prior to assembling for the parade. Evelyn Ansel was calling the shots and announced the beginning of the parade. I moved over to Australia beach to catch them going by. Later, my companions and I took a short cruise on the catboat 'Breck Marshall' to get a closer look at CW and the watercraft invading the Mystic River for the celebration. Magic.
By the time the ceremonies began it was sunny and a bit hot. The affable Steve White, President of Mystic Seaport, opened the proceedings. Speeches ensued, by dignitaries, all quite good, actually, then a prayer, and then we came to the Keynote address by the superb filmmaker Ric Burns. Ric is a bit of an historian on American whaling and his documentary 'Into the Deep' for PBS is must see for anyone remotely interested in American whaling, or our history in general. His remarks were cogent and perceptive and a coda to the day.
Sarah Bullard christened the 'Morgan'. She is a descendent of Charles W Morgan. The bottle she used to strike the bow was filled water from the North and South Atlantic, the Pacific and Indian Oceans as well as water from New Bedford and Mystic, her original and current homeports with a wee drop of rum added for good luck.
The 38th Voyage:
Beginning in late May of 2014, the 'Morgan' will embark on another voyage. It will be her 38th. She'll first sail south to New London for sail training and seagoing preparations. Upon leaving New London she'll turn upcoast and visit Newport, Vineyard Haven, New Bedford, Provincetown and Boston. The 'Morgan' will then return to Mystic. 
According to Dan McFadden at Mystic Seaport, her voyage and subsequent tenure as a exhibit at Mystic revolves around four major themes: The American Sailor as Icon, The influence of different cultures connecting at sea, Whaling as an example of American enterprise and America's changing relationship to the natural world. Dan states "The last is the most significant: whales were hunted almost to extinction. Today America celebrates the whale and works for it's recovery. Where once the 'Charles W Morgan's cargo was oil and bone, today her cargo is knowledge."

 It's my fervent hope that that's true. This massive work of preservation and restoration, involving more than five years and millions of dollars, and including the work done at the various institutions building the whaleboats, is a monument to history, and quite valuable as an artifact. But to fulfill her potential, the 'Morgan' must also become a potent symbol for another kind of preservation, that of not only whales and other cetaceans but for all worldwide fishing stocks and sea life, as well as our seas themselves, all of which are in danger.

Some stats:   

The 'Morgan' is 113' long and 27' wide

She displaces 300 tons

She is rigged as a bark

280 frame futtocks were replaced

She has 70 new ceiling planks

168 new hull planks

22 States have contributed materials or expertise to the restoration.

As one speaker during the Launch ceremony quipped, It's all been said but not everyone has had a chance to say it...

I would like to thank all those involved in this tremendous project, the staff at Mystic, the shipwrights and volunteers who've brought this ship back to life, all the folks involved in the whaleboat project. Especially, Steve White for his tenacious commitment to see the project through in financially difficult times,  three generations of the Ansel family for their commitment to preserving maritime knowledge and skills, Dan McFadden for his help and generosity and to John Brady for inviting me to be a part of the project. It has been and continues to be a great honor.

posted by Thomas Armstrong on Whaleboats for the CW Morgan