Peter Henry Emerson’s book of studies of the agricultural environment was published at the same time Thomas Hardy was writing his Wessex novels. Emerson’s aim was to provide photographs which were as well composed as paintings, while maintaining photography’s ‘truth to nature’. The photographs set out to balance an ‘appreciation of the picturesque in landscape and figures’ with a process that was ‘entirely free from retouching’.
The photograph seen here depicts a mangold harvest. Mangolds are root vegetables with a leafy top, similar to swedes and turnips. They are grown mainly as a food crop for livestock. Tess in Chapter 43 of Tess of the d’Urbervilles is set to grub up the bottom part of the roots of the vegetables in a 100-acre field (an acre is the equivalent of a square 63.6 m each side). In Emerson’s photograph it appears that the plants are being harvested entire, which would require the soil to be soft. The process of lifting the vegetable would be a constant strain on the back; two people working a 100-acre field would take several days to complete the task.