Friday, July 6, 2007

More Getty

After a hectic week including lots of freeway driving on the 4th in order to play a concert in Burbank, I need to finish off my Getty story. The photography exhibit of the works of P.H. Emerson, The Old Order and the New, was outstanding. Emerson (from the same family that produced Ralph Waldo) was a very colorful character. He was born in Cuba but spent most of his life in England. He qualified as a doctor of medicine but turned to photography when photography was still a very new enterprise. He argued with his colleague, H.P. Robinson over whether or not photographs should be in sharp focus. Emerson preferred what he called differential focus, where most of the picture is blurred which gives his photographs a impressionistic look. (There are even water lilies and haystacks.) Then in 1890, he suddenly renounced photography as an art form saying it was just a mechanical exercise. Looking at his impressive photos shows you that this is far from being the case.

The photos in the exhibit were from 1885 to 1895 and came from his published works, Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, 1886, Idyls of the Norfolk Broads, 1887, Pictures from Life in Field and Fen, 1887, Pictures of East Anglian Life, 1888, The Compleat Angler, 1888, Wild Life on a Tidal Water, 1890, Old English Lagoons, 1893, and Marsh Leaves, 1895. As you can see from the titles, he was fascinated with wetlands and with the "peasants" that lived and worked around them. He thought of himself as an anthropologist of sorts, preserving a way of life in photos that was quickly giving way to progress. His photos of fishermen, haymakers, farmers, etc., were of interest to me because I expect my ancestors in Newfoundland looked pretty much the same as these East Anglians. A lot of the photos were shot in Norwich which is where another one of my ancestors was supposed to be from. But my favorite photos were the landscapes. These look very modern, almost minimalist, like Japanese or Chinese brush paintings.

No photography was allowed inside this exhibit so I can't show you any pictures of his photos. Anyway, they probably would not do them justice since the photos in the accompanying book I bought do not do them justice. You have to see the originals. Unfortunately, the exhibit closes this Sunday.

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