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Documentary
19th Century Architectural Studies
 
  

This exhibition brings together a range of photographs that show the different ways architecture was perceived in the Nineteenth Century.
 
The photographs include those taken for commercial reasons but for others the task was to preserve a record of cities that were changing and expanding rapidly in response to a shift from an agrarian to an urban workforce. In each country economic historians record the significant date when fifty percent of the population was in towns and cities for the first time rather than the countryside and it is seen as a benchmark of progress. The shift in Europe meant that rural communities declined and buildings were abandoned and at the same time cities exploded and required new roads and the destruction of older buildings. Wars and conflicts ravaged many parts and within the exhibition there are photographs by a single photographer or a group that were tasked with preserving the architecture of a region, a city or a number of monuments.
 
In France the Missions Héliographiques with Edouard Baldus, Hippolyte Bayard, Gustave Le Gray, Henri Le Secq and Auguste Mestral recorded the cathedrals, abbeys, castles and monuments of the different regions. Charles Marville recorded the streets and buildings that were going to be destroyed by Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s redesign of Paris. This led on to the reclusive Eugène Atget (1857-1927) who continued the same approach and technology long after it had been superceeded to record Paris in some of the most famous urban photographs ever taken and now seen as classics of architectural photography.
 
In Scotland Thomas Annan (1829-1887) in the 1868 recorded the old closes and buildings of Glasgow that housed the poor in a medieval squalor. The photographs were taken for the Glasgow Improvement Trust and published in "The Old Closes & Streets of Glasgow" - the photographer is barely mentioned in the work although it is now rightly regarded as a masterpiece of social documentary. Similar work was carried out by Archibald Burns in Edinburgh and still later in the later 1870s and 1880s Henry Dixon and other photographers recorded buildings and monuments of London for the The Society for photographing relics of old London.
 
Elsewhere the architectural wonders of the ancient and medieval worlds afforded commercial possibilities to photographers - as the middle classes expanded so did travel and publishing. Photographs were souvenirs of trips or purchased by those with both the interest and the means. Different countries had photographers and some of them were remarkably skilled at recording architectural edifices - Jean Laurent in Spain, Samuel Bourne in India, The Alinari family and Robert Macpherson in Italy, and George K. Warren and Carleton Watkins in America.
 
I‘d welcome examples and suggestions for other photographers that should be included.
 
Alan Griffiths (October 2006) 
  

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