Marsh Leaves - PH Emerson

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Dark Mirror Gallery, Norwich


The Norfolk Broads were always a magical landscape for that renowned early photographer PH Emerson.

Towards the end of the 19th century he was particularly struck by the rare beauty of the region while travelling along the waterways in a Wherry-yacht during a hard winter.

The result was a collection of pictures that he called Marsh Leaves, with the technique of photo-etching putting a soft edge to the poetic images.

With the light fading and the whiteness of snow lying on the banks bringing out unusual forms, Emerson creates his own interpretation of the rural scene.

Mist, fog and occasionally even billowing steam in the distance add touches of mystery, and human figures make only rare appearances in the rapt stillness.

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The Lonely Fisher, with nets drying on slanting poles, and The Bridge are pure impressionism in shades of grey.

There is some detail in branches and buildings, but all that is secondary to the patterning and evocation of atmosphere.

Emerson can be seen moving on towards a style that employs photography less to record reality than to construct design.

Marsh Weeds, for instance, does not linger over the vegetation, because shapes have taken on a meaning of their own.

The Lone Lagoon challenges viewers simply to respond to abstract relationships in space.

Marsh Leaves continues until November 5. The Dark Mirror Gallery, at 68 King Street, is open Wednesdays to Fridays, 11am-4pm.

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