BY CARLOTTA RIGHI
Rowing home the schoof-stuff - Photograph by Peter Henry Emerson
The photograph is from 1886, taken from the book Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, made in collaboration with the English painter Thomas F. Goodall, where images of the environment and everyday life of rural life on the Norfolk Broads, a marshy region, are portrayed. of Norfolk County, East Anglia, dotted with navigable rivers and lakes. The photo in question was printed in platinum, from a negative on glass. Peter Henry Emerson photographed everyday life in its realistic beauty, discovering in it an artistic sense, which, he said, must not necessarily be in beautiful places like Egypt, or China, or Peru, but can be found on the doorstep and if it is not found there, it will never be found. The man, absorbed in his thoughts, his gaze fixed on the horizon, rowing so slowly that his boat seems to float. Even the oars, while immersed, do not move the water, thus giving the image a sense of inalterability over time, almost an absolute value of the action that stopped by the lens, loses its function of movement to acquire a dimension. of completeness regardless of becoming, but completely realized in itself. This is the highest final synthesis moment of each photograph, when the moving image is stopped in time, in its most essential entity, as an act defined and concluded in itself. It is the representation of an ordinary man engaged in normal behavior, a simple farmer portrayed in his natural habitat, who brings with him a shapeless mass of reeds and marsh grass. Man is calm, in no hurry, is not chased by time and is immersed in the quiet of nature, in perfect harmony with the surrounding environment. The boat, almost in the center of the whole, gives a sense of stillness and infinity, with its foggy horizon, beyond the image delicately fades into lighter tones, melting into the contours, participating in a symbiotic communion between the water and the sky, giving things a small and corruptible dimension, unrelated to the immense size and immobility of immensity. The photographic cut makes us a photo deliberately moved to the right, in order to give the subject the feeling of being literally surrounded by nature and being an integral part of it. If the image had been placed in the center of the composition, a decidedly flatter, more distant, less complementary and therefore less enveloping horizon would have emerged, an element of disturbance for the Photographer, who had the impulse to take photos as his primary purpose. naturalistic, perfectly embedded in the environment and above all that the environment itself was the true protagonist of the story. But the salient feature of photographic work on the Norfolk Broads, the true technical innovation, is the use of the focus differential, which Emerson, in keeping with his interest in naturalism, adopted to make his views slightly out of focus at the edges of the image. A technique, according to the intentions of the author, which should have given effects similar to the vision of the human eye which, in the observation of a whole, uses a selective focus, with which it perfectly delineates the center of the image, making it more confused. towards the periphery and to achieve this effect he resolved to shoot slightly out of focus, making sure he had a sharp image in the center. He wrote: "Nothing in nature has a rigid outline, but everything is seen against something else, and upon this its outlines dissolve delicately, often so subtly that one cannot distinguish where the one ends and the beginning of the other. In this mixture of decision and indecision, the charm and mystery of nature are manifested ". Rowing Home the Schoof-Stuff is the result of one, single shot. It has not been subjected to retouching, nor to multiple exposures, perfectly in line with the thought of the Author who shied away from any technical manipulation, in achieving a pseudo-artistic value, finding insignificant the need to emulate the styles of painting, in open diatribe with the establishment of the era in which Pictorealism reigned supreme, an intellectual movement of photographic technique, born at the turn of the 19th century, whose theorist and leading exponent was the English photographer Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901), a keen supporter of photomontage, according to which it was necessary, through manual skill, with a complex and maniacal work, made up of multiple exposures, photomontages and retouching, completing everything with a meticulous work, using dye and brush to dampen the small inaccuracies of the composition, right aesthetic sense so that photography could be comparable, on an artistic level, with the so-called arts m more, like drawing and even more, painting. P.H. In this regard, Emerson asserted that: "the photographic technique is perfect and does not need messes, by means of which, a good or bad photograph, is transformed into a bad drawing or a bad painting ". The overall central group, consisting of rower, boat, oars and resulting shadow, extends both in height and in width over half of the image and this suggests that the Photographer, to achieve this result of fullness, adopted an optic with a rather long focal length, a telephoto lens, so as to obtain a well-highlighted foreground, which stands out massively against the landscape. The depth of field is of considerable entity and was obtained, using a small aperture, together with a long exposure time. The use of the telephoto lens also produced that slight blur at the longitudinal ends of the composition, capable of creating that barely perceptible confusion that was so dear to the photographer. The right exposure, or the measurement of the light, was detected on the water and this generated a slight underexposure of the boat with its rower, thus producing, even more remarkably, the effect of placid floating. The tonal rendering, complete in the gray scale, has been entrusted to the monochromatic photographic process of platinum printing which, unlike the chemical process with silver halide, offers a wider range of tones and gives the image a soft , silent, opacity, adequately in line with the Artist's intention, of wanting to represent in the solitude of the pond, a moment of spiritual intimacy.