LOS ANGELES – During the rise of industrialization in mid-19th century Scotland, Thomas Annan ranked as the preeminent photographer of Glasgow. For more than 25 years, he prodigiously recorded the people, the social landscape, and the built environment of the city during a period of rapid growth and change. Thomas Annan: Photographer of Glasgow, on view May 23-August 13, 2017 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, presents the first exhibition to survey Annan’s prolific career and legacy as both a photographer and printer via his engagement with Glasgow as his photographic subject.
The exhibition includes more than 100 photographs, the majority on loan to the Getty, providing a rare opportunity to view key series by this photographer in the United States. Among the works to be featured are recently rediscovered prints Annan made at the end of his career and numerous photographically illustrated books that demonstrate technical innovations he perfected and championed.
“This exhibition is the first to explore Annan’s deep fascination with Glasgow and fully contextualize his contributions within the city’s history,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “His work effectively recorded the transformation of greater Glasgow over the course of several decades, during an era when this ‘second city of the empire’ flourished. Annan’s photographs underscore the notion of progress that dominated this era and directed urban growth in the 19th century.”
Thomas Annan, who opened his own photographic firm in Glasgow in 1857 and remained active until his death three decades later, worked at a time when the city’s population increased dramatically and industry neared its peak. Initially Annan garnered attention for work that ranged from studio portraiture and reproductions of artwork to landscapes, but he also quickly emerged as an important documentarian of Glasgow and its outskirts. Near the outset of his career, Annan was tasked with documenting the construction of a 35-mile long aqueduct—located in a picturesque wooded glen called the Trossachs—from Loch Katrine to Glasgow. His photographs reveal how this colossal feat of engineering impacted the scenic landscape of the Scottish countryside, underscoring the industrialization associated with this era in British history, as well as the somewhat tenuous relationship between man and the natural environment. Annan continued to record the development and effects of the aqueduct for more than two decades. One gallery in the exhibition explores his extensive commitment to the subject, featuring rare views from his 1859 documentation of the aqueduct scheme that will be on view for the first time since the 19th century.
Today, Annan is remembered principally for his haunting images of tenements and passageways, known as closes, slated for modification or demolition as a result of the Glasgow City Improvements Act of 1867. Considered a precursor of the social documentary tradition in photography, Annan’s Photographs of Old Closes and Streets series (1868-71) not only reveals the difficult living conditions of working-class residents of central Glasgow, but also suggests progress underway as a result of the Improvements Act. Despite challenges posed by weather, sanitation, lighting, and the labor-intensive photographic equipment/process he employed, Annan produced highly detailed, enigmatic photographs of the closes and the tenement dwellers that are testament to his technical and artistic mastery. On view will be albumen silver prints from the Old Closes and Streets series, including an original glass plate negative and publications that feature the closes.
Throughout his career, Annan photographed construction efforts, engineering works, buildings, and other subjects that related to concurrent municipal initiatives. Among the civic projects that he documented, and that will be showcased in the exhibition, are the relocation of the University of Glasgow, the re-navigation of the River Clyde and the construction of Queen’s Dock at Glasgow harbor, and the beautification of Glasgow Cathedral. He also photographed numerous country estates and houses that were demolished or repurposed as part of the outward expansion of the city and the rising industrialist class. Transformation of the built environment in Glasgow during this time largely shaped the appearance of the city as we know it today, and Annan effectively documented this evolution.
Annan is also credited for promoting various photographic processes, specifically carbon printing and photogravure, for which he owned the licensing rights within Scotland. His legacy was extended by his eldest sons, James Craig and John, who worked as photographers and managed their father’s photographic firm upon his death. While James Craig pursued fine art photography and emerged as a leading figure in the Pictorialist movement, John carved out a steady career photographing architecture and industrial machinery in Glasgow. Their discrete areas of expertise reflected their father’s myriad interests and may have constituted the division of labor at the firm as well.
“Though a pioneer in his field, Annan has remained a relatively marginalized figure in the history of photography,” says Amanda Maddox, assistant curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition. “This exhibition seeks to highlight the breadth of his output and the extent of his contributions to the medium, which we hope will prompt further scholarship and greater appreciation for this important 19th century practitioner.”
Thomas Annan: Photographer of Glasgow, on view May 23-August 13, 2017 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, will coincide with the presentation of Now Then: Chris Killip and the Making of In Flagrante. Together these exhibitions represent a century of industry in Britain, from its height to its demise. A scholarly publication that shares the title of the exhibition and is focused on Thomas Annan’s photographically illustrated books about Glasgow will be released by Getty Publications in spring 2017.
Left: Piping across the Balfron Road (1859). Thomas Annan (Scottish, 1829 – 1887). Albumen silver print. Image: 20.9 x 28.6 cm (8 ¼ x 11 1/4 in.); Sheet: 38 x 48.5 cm (14 15/16 x 19 1/18 in.); Mat: 40.6 x 55.9 cm (16 x 22 in.). Lent by Glasgow Life (Mitchell Library Special Collections) on behalf of Glasgow City Council. Image © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums and Libraries Collection: The Mitchell Library, Special Collections
Right: High Street from College Open (1868 – 1871). Thomas Annan (Scottish, 1829 – 1887). Albumen silver print. Image: 40.5 x 54 cm (15 15/16 x 21 1/4 in.); Mat: 50.8 x 60.9 cm (20 x 24 in.). Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal. © Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal
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