Thomas Annan of Glasgow

Thomas Annan of Glasgow: Pioneer of the Documentary Photograph

Lionel Gossman
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Open Book Publishers
Pages: 192
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    Thomas Annan of Glasgow
    Book Description:

    In the wake of Glasgow’s transformation in the nineteenth-century into an industrial powerhouse, the "Second City of the Empire," a substantial part of the old town of Adam Smith degenerated into an overcrowded and disease-ridden slum. The Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow, Thomas Annan’s photographic record of this central section of the city prior to its demolition in accordance with the City of Glasgow Improvements Act of 1866, is widely recognized as a classic of nineteenth-century documentary photography. Annan’s achievement as a photographer of paintings and a portrait and landscape photographer is less widely known. Thomas Annan: Photographer of Victorian Scotland offers a handy, comprehensive and copiously illustrated overview of the full range of the photographer’s work. The book opens with a brief account of the immediate context of Annan’s career as a photographer: the astonishing florescence of photography in Victorian Scotland. Successive chapters deal with each of the main fields of his activity, touching along the way on issues such as the nineteenth-century debate over the status of photography — a mechanical practice or an artistic one? — and the still ongoing controversies surrounding the documentary photograph in particular. While the text itself is intended for the general reader, extensive endnotes amplify particular themes and offer guidance to readers interested in pursuing these themes further.

    eISBN: 978-1-78374-129-8
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Prefatory Note and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Lionel Gossman
  4. 1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    Victorian Scotland was the site of an astonishing florescence of photography, and Thomas Annan was one of an impressive cohort of Scottish masters of the young medium. Born in 1829 into a farming and flax-spinning family in Dairsie, Fife, in the East of Scotland, he left home at the age of fifteen to join the staff of the localFife Heraldnewspaper, based in the nearby county capital of Cupar, as an apprentice lithographic engraver. Having completed his projected seven-year apprenticeship in four years, he moved to the then rapidly expanding and industrializing city of Glasgow in the West of...

  5. 2. Paintings
    (pp. 25-38)

    In the early stages of photography, when the new technique was still widely viewed as an aid to art and science, rather than as capable of producing art of its own, the use of the camera to provide reproductions of paintings, as well as to help the contemporary painter by bringing his work to the attention of a new art purchasing public, was both common and well-regarded. Special medals were awarded at international exhibitions for outstanding work in the photographic reproduction of paintings and some photographers who specialized in that branch of photography, such as the now poorly remembered Robert...

  6. 3. Portraits
    (pp. 39-48)

    By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, having a portrait made of oneself or one’s family members was not the exclusive privilege of wealthy aristocrats and “great men,” as is evident from the list of painted portraits in the previously mentionedCatalogue of Portraits on Loan in the New Galleries of Art, Corporation Buildings, Sauchiehall Street. In many small European cities and towns a local artist might make a living by painting portraits, often miniatures, of local people. These were not cheap, of course, and the clientele was still relatively restricted. The camera put portraiture within reach of a...

  7. 4. Landscapes
    (pp. 49-66)

    Like portraiture, landscape was a major genre of painting and was similarly adopted by the earliest photographers. As Ray McKenzie, a contemporary scholar at the Glasgow School of Art, notes:

    Since the publication, in 1845, of William Henry Fox Talbot’sSun Pictures in Scotland, landscape has been one of the most abiding obsessions in the Scottish photographic tradition. Aspects of the country’s physical appearance have proved a source of endless fascination both for indigenous photographers, as well as for those who, following Talbot, have come to Scotland for no other reason than to photograph it. […] There is scarcely a...

  8. 5. The Built Environment
    (pp. 67-88)

    Annan appears to have had a genuine appreciation of architecture as well as of painting. Once again, however, much of his published work resulted from commissions. Two large volumes illustrating local gentlemen’s mansions—The Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry. One hundred photographs by Annan, of well-known places in the neighbourhood of Glasgow,with descriptive notices(Glasgow: MacLehose, 1870, 2nd ed. 1878) andCastles and Mansions of Ayrshire illustrated in seventy views(Edinburgh: William Paterson, 1885)⁵⁴ —were essentially commissioned by well-to-do members of the old aristocracy and merchant class. Dismayed by the rapidity with which the city and...

  9. 6. The Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow
    (pp. 89-124)

    The best-known, most widely-admired, and most problematical of Annan’s architectural photographs make up the collection known asThe Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow.These photographs were commissioned by the City of Glasgow Improvement Trust, an agency set up to oversee the demolition, authorized by Act of Parliament in 1866, of a section of the old center of the city—in effect, a not insubstantial part of what Glasgow had been in Adam Smith’s day. An informed understanding of this work of Annan’s, which is still subject to divergent interpretations, requires some consideration of the conditions that obtained at the...

  10. 7. Epilogue
    (pp. 125-126)

    When the author of this short study was growing up in Glasgow in the 1930s and 1940s, “Clyde-built” referred to the ships built in the world-famous yards of Govan, Clydebank, Linthouse, Scotstoun, Whiteinch, Dumbarton, and other districts and suburbs of the city or nearby towns on the River Clyde. Though the industry was already in decline by that time, the term was used with pride throughout the West of Scotland. It denoted the honest, workmanlike products of inspired engineers and designers and skilled craftsmen (loftsmen, platers, welders, caulkers). As the Wikipedia article puts it, “Clydebuiltbecame an industry benchmark of...

  11. Endnotes
    (pp. 127-162)
  12. List of Illustrations
    (pp. 163-176)
  13. Index of Names
    (pp. 177-180)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 181-183)