Born in Cuba and raised there and in the United States before moving to England as a teenager, physician and scientist Peter Henry Emerson took up photography at age twenty-six. Often described as a difficult zealot, he vocally championed a naturalistic approach to imagemaking. He favored rural subjects presented in a simple, direct manner. Emerson's influential 1889 book Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art outlined his thesis that photography's ability to record nature truthfully was its most expressive one. He argued that the photograph should imitate nature rather than alter it.
Emerson was a passionate lecturer and writer about photography, never mincing words and thus earning as many foes as supporters. He was an early and tireless champion of photography as a fine art, and he became the unofficial godfather of the Photo-Secessionist movement, founded by Alfred Stieglitz in 1902.