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Thomas AnnanThis exhibition covers the portfolio The Old Closes & Streets of Glasgow - engraved by Annan from Photographs taken for the City of Glasgow Improvement Trust. With an Introduction by William Young, R.S.W. that was published in 1900 by James MacLehose & Sons of Glasgow. The importance of this work is that it includes photographs taken by Thomas Annan (1829-1887) in 1868 of the squalid slums and closes of the Scottish city. These photographs are amongst the earliest taken specifically as a record of housing conditions prior to urban renewal and as such they are an important milestone in the history of documentary photography.
The Old Closes & Streets of Glasgow
In the introduction to a 1977 reprint of this work Anita Ventura Mozley wrote:
"It is likely that Annan regarded the commission from the Trustees of the Improvements Act as just another he received when his success as a commercial photographer of Glasgow was increasingly recognized. However inadvertently, he did give us the first thorough photographic representation available of the dwelling places and the inhabitants of an urban slum." (Mozley 1977:XII).
The importance of the choices made by the photographer was almost totally ignored in the original work and it was only on page 22 of the Introduction by the historian William Young that he is mentioned:
"The City Improvement Trustees acquired, by act of parliament, in 1866, the right to alter and reconstruct several of the more densely built areas of the city, and these operations, it was foreseen, would remove many old and interesting landmarks. Before entering upon their work, the Trustees arranged with the late Mr. Thomas Annan to take photographs of a series of views of the closes and streets more immediately affected, and a few copies were presented to members of the Corporation and others." (Young 1900:22)
When Martin Parr and Gerry Badger describe this work in their The Photobook: A History - Volume 1 they make an important observation about the camera viewpoint choices that Annan was largely forced into by the nature of the architectural spaces he was attempting to record.
"The Scottish ‘close‘ and ‘wynd‘ - the terms are almost interchangeable - were familiar landmarks in any city with a densely packed medieval street pattern: narrow passageways leading either from one street to another, or into the middle of a building block. It is the consistently narrow form of the alley that gives formal coherency to most of Annan‘s imagery- he simply stood the camera in the middle of the passageway and shot down it." (2004:49)
Thomas Annan was not the first to record architectural subjects. There had been the Missions Héliographiques in France which combined the talents of Edouard Baldus, Hippolyte Bayard, Gustave Le Gray, Henri Le Secq and Auguste Mestral. There were also the wet collodion photographs of Charles Marville (1816-1879) capturing in the 1860s a record of the streets of Paris prior to their destruction to make way for Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s urban redesign. The work of Annan pre-dates that of Eugéne Atget (1857-1927) in creating an important record of a 19th century urban slum: a slum that to many Glasgow residents in the 1860s was home all the same.
Thomas Annan was not a purist and improved his printed photographs:
"He added clouds, which brighten the skies over Glasgow‘s slums, and he whitened the wash on the line. He did this for pictorial effect, for nice balance. While his taste for the picturesque, for a tradition inherited from painting, and quite in accord with salon practice of the day, may distort to some extent the immediacy of the mise-en-scene, we must appreciate the fact that he did not tidy up the rest of the picture, as his son, James Craig Annan, did when he made the photogravure plates for the 1900 edition. The photogravures are lighter in tone, and consequently in mood, in the sense of the place, than Annan‘s carbon prints. Moving figures, those ghosts who would not stand still for the photographer, are completely excised in the photogravure edition..." (Mozley 1977:XI- XII).
This brings us to the point that there are multiple versions of the portfolio in carbon prints and photogravures and there are differences between them that are not only a part of the processes involved in reproduction but also in the aesthetics of the printer. When James Craig Annan, the son of Thomas Annan, created the photogravure plates for the 1900 edition he did not remove all of the "ghosts" and though lacking in power compared to their unadulterated carbon print counterparts, the plates shown in this exhibition do not lack in content or feeling in richness of tone.
Finally it is worth providing a short background to the different versions that exist of these photographs. A very small number of bound sets of Annan‘s albumen photographs from this endeavor are known to exist: examples are in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow and in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. Surprisingly, another set of 31 mounted albumen prints with printed caption labels but lacking the title page and enclosed in a contemporary green half morocco portfolio, lettered on upper cover Glasgow Improvements Act. 1866. Photographs of Streets, Closes &c. taken 1868-71 sold at auction for £13,000 (Lyon and Turnbull in Edinburgh - July 11th, 2006).
In the introduction by Anita Ventura Mozley (1977) we also learn of a second edition of this work: "Sometime late in 1878 or early in 1879, an edition comprising 40 carbon prints was published in an edition of 100 quarto-sized copies by Annan‘s Lenzie firm for the Glasgow City Improvements Trust." At the Phillips de Pury auction (New York - April 22, 2004) a complete carbon version of this edition was offered for sale and it realized £66,000.
The present edition comes from the photogravure edition of 100 copies (not numbered) issued in 1900 by James MacLehose & Sons of Glasgow. The portfolio contains 50 fine photogravures from wet-collodion negatives taken between 1868 and 1899 and engraved and printed by James Craig Annan of T. & R. Annan & Sons. The later pictures added to the 1900 edition done after Thomas Annan‘s death in 1885 were most likely done by Thomas Annan‘s eldest son John Annan (1862-1947). According to the National Library of Scotland, John Annan was "a member of the family firm of photographers. John specialized in architectural photography and was known for his photographs of Glasgow slums." The National Galleries of Scotland online collections website states in part "His son John inherited the project and in 1900, the family firm T.&R. Annan produced a photogravure album with new prints by John Annan".
T. & R. Annan & Sons also printed and issued a second 1900 edition of 100 copies under their own imprint. Glasgow historian William Young supplied an introduction (23 pages-dated August of 1900 in portfolio) for both 1900 photogravure editions but only makes a brief reference to the author of these historically important photographs.
© Photoseed & Alan Griffiths (2006) - Used with permission
Mozley, Anita Ventura (1977) Thomas Annan: Photographs of The Old Closes And Streets of Glasgow 1868/1877 (With a supplement of 15 related views) with a new introduction by Anita Ventura Mozley. (New York: Dover Publications, Inc.) Published through the Cooperation of The International Museum of Photography / George Eastman House.
Parr, Martin & Gerry Badger (2004) The Photobook: A History-volume 1 (Phaidon Press Limited).
Young, William (1900) The Old Closes & Streets of Glasgow - engraved by Annan from Photographs taken for the City of Glasgow Improvement Trust. With an Introduction by William Young, R.S.W. (Glasgow: James MacLehose & Sons)