Thomas Annan and ‘The Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow’ in Early Photography

By Dr. Lionel Gossman / 05.28.2015
M. Taylore Pyne Professor of Romance Languages
Princeton University

The best-known, most widely-admired, and most problematical of Annan’s architectural photographs make up the collection known as The 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 time of its commissioning.

6:1 David Octavius Hill, “Opening of the Glasgow and Garnkirk Railway in 1831” with a view of the Tennant chemical works, St. Rollox. Lithograph after an original painting, from D. O. Hill, Views of the Opening of the Glasgow and Garnkirk Railway (Edinburgh: Alex Hill, 1832). ©CSG CIC Glasgow Museums and Libraries Collection: The Mitchell Library, Special Collections.

Thanks to expanding trade with the New World and the rapid development of cotton spinning and tobacco processing in the eighteenth century, and of iron foundries, shipbuilding, locomotive building, and the chemical and machine industries in the nineteenth,[65] the population of Glasgow had grown from 12,000 at the time of the Treaty of Union with England in 1707, when Daniel Defoe described it as “one of the cleanest, most beautiful, and best built cities in Great Britain,” to 100,000 in 1811 and 300,000 by the mid-1840s, when Engels wrote his Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (Fig. 6:1).

By the end of the nineteenth century, the population had more than doubled to 761,000 and in 1912 it topped the million mark, making it one of the four or five most populous cities in Europe. “Between 1870 and 1914,” in the words of the novelist and journalist Allan Massie, “Glasgow reached its apogee. Whatever its social problems, it was one of the richest and most splendid of European cities.”[66]

Massive immigration from the Scottish countryside and especially from Ireland was both a condition and a consequence of the city’s rapid industrialization and expansion.[67] The result, however, was the transformation of much of the old town—as the better-off residents and then the municipal buildings moved west—into a hugely overcrowded, fetid, dangerous and disease-ridden slum. Exploiting the desperate needs of impoverished immigrants, landlords turned the old multi-story townhouses (as Engels noted, “the houses in Scottish towns are generally four, five or six stories high”)[68] into warrens of small, usually one-room apartments and, to make matters even worse, crammed additional jerry-built tenements into the former yards or gardens between them.

There are many harrowing contemporary descriptions of conditions in the slums of Glasgow in the mid-1800s. It is worth quoting from a few of them in order to convey an idea of the problem that prompted the city fathers to seek the authority to purchase and demolish entire streets of the old city.

In a Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Gt. Britain that he presented to the House of Lords in 1842, Edwin Chadwick, Secretary to the Poor Law Commission, wrote that “it appeared to us [himself and his colleague, Dr. Neil Arnott, a Scottish-born and trained surgeon] that both the structural arrangements and the condition of the population in Glasgow was the worst of any we had seen in any part of Great Britain.”[69] For his part, Engels quoted from a report in the new monthly periodical The Artizan (October 1843) in his Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, published in the original German in 1845

The population in 1840 was estimated at 282,000, of whom about 78 percent belong to the working classes, 50,000 being Irish. Glasgow has its fine, airy, healthy quarters, that may vie with those of London and all wealthy cities; but it has others which, in abject wretchedness, exceed the lowest purlieus of St. Giles’ or Whitechapel [. . .]—endless labyrinths of narrow lanes or wynds, into which almost at every step debouche courts or closes formed by old, ill-ventilated, towering houses crumbling to decay, destitute of water and crowded with inhabitants, comprising three or four families (perhaps twenty persons) on each flat, and sometimes each flat let out in lodgings that confine—we dare not say accommodate—from fifteen to twenty persons in a single room. These districts [. . .] may be considered as the fruitful source of those pestilential fevers which thence spread their destructive ravages over the whole of Glasgow.[70

Finally, here is Jelinger Symons, an Assistant Commissioner on an official enquiry into the condition of handloom weavers in 1838

I have seen human degradation in some of its worst phases, both in England and abroad, but I can advisedly say that I did not believe until I visited the wynds of Glasgow, that so large an amount of filth, crime, misery, and disease existed on one spot in any civilized country. [. . .] In the lower lodging-houses ten, twelve and sometimes twenty persons of both sexes and all ages sleep promiscuously on the floor in different degrees of nakedness. These places are, generally as regards dirt, damp and decay, such as no person of common humanity to animals would stable his horse in.[71

By 1856, when Nathaniel Hawthorne, then U.S. Consul in Liverpool, visited the city, he commented on the “wide and regular” streets, the statuary in George Square and the “handsome houses and public edifices of a dark grey stone” in the newer sections, while on a second visit the following year he declared himself “inclined to think the newer portion of Glasgow [. . .] the stateliest of cities. The Exchange and other public buildings, and the shops in Buchanan Street are very magnificent; the latter especially excelling those of London.” But when he went into the old city to view the University, he was appalled. It was “in a dense part of the town, and a very old and shabby part, too,” he noted in his diary for May 10th, 1856. “I think the poorer classes of Glasgow excel even those in Liverpool in the bad eminence of filth, uncombed and unwashed children, drunkenness, disorderly deportment, evil smell, and all that makes city poverty disgusting.” On his second visit, his impression had not changed: “The Trongate and the Salt-Market [. . .] were formerly the principal business streets, and, together with High Street, the abode of the rich merchants and other great people of the town. High Street, and, still more, the Salt-Market now swarm with the lower orders to a degree which I have never witnessed elsewhere; so that it is difficult to make one’s way among the sullen and unclean crowd, and not at all pleasant to breathe in the noisomeness of the atmosphere. The children seem to have been unwashed from birth.”[72]

6:2 Shadow [Alexander Brown], Midnight Scenes and Social Photographs being Sketches of Life in the Streets, Wynds and Dens of the City (Glasgow: Thomas Murray, 1858). Cover design. Division of Rare Books, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Inevitably, disease was rampant, epidemics frequent, and crime endemic. There were outbreaks of typhus in 1818, 1832, 1837, 1847, and 1851-52; cholera epidemics in 1832, 1848-49, and 1853-54, the last two claiming almost 8,000 lives.[73] Though some of the better-off citizens were doubtless troubled in their Christian conscience by the inhuman conditions many of their fellow-creatures were living in, few ventured into the noisome and dangerous parts of their city.[74] However, a detailed account of these as a scene of hunger, drunkenness, promiscuity, prostitution, violence and crime was readily available to all in a widely-read book put out by a Glasgow publisher in 1858, just a couple of years after Annan opened his photographic business in the city. Midnight Scenes and Social Photographs, Being Sketches of Life in the Streets, Wynds and Dens of the City (Fig. 6:2) was divided into seven sections, each one describing a night in the slums, from Sunday, supposedly the Lord’s day, until the following Saturday. The author apologized in his Preface for the gruesome picture his book presented of “the condition of the poor, and the classes generally inhabiting the lower depths of society,” but insisted on its honest and unembellished realism. Though “the ‘Photographs’ present a tone painfully dark and gloomy [. . .], they are not creations of the brain, but so far as the writer’s knowledge of the art extends—they are truthful [. . .]; as they occurred, so have they been given.”[75]

6:3 George Cruickshank, from Midnight Scenes and Social Photographs. Frontispiece. Division of Rare Books. Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

The book’s claim to realism was underscored not only by the use of the common Glasgow dialect among the characters encountered or interviewed by the narrator but, above all, by the photographic metaphor in the title, photographs being still widely considered impartial and objective copies of reality made with no input from the photographer other than his technical skill. The metaphorical function of the term “social photographs” is highlighted by the fact that there are no photographs in the book, its only illustration being a frontispiece engraving by the great caricaturist George Cruikshank which depicts a photographer taking pictures of scenes and situations described in the text (Fig. 6:3).

Local readers might also have come across some lines by the popular Kilmarnock-born and Glasgow-raised poet Alexander Smith (1829-1867), who had spent twelve years working long hours in a Glasgow factory and who in “A Boy’s Poem,” published in 1857, described living conditions in the city’s slums in terms strikingly similar to those of Midnight Scenes

We crept into a half-forgotten street
Of frail and tumbling houses propt by beams,
And ruined courts which, centuries before,
Rung oft to iron heels,—which palfreys pawed,
As down the mighty steps the Lady came
Bright as the summer morning,—peopled now
By outcasts, sullen men, bold girls who sat
Pounding sand in the sun. The day we came
The windows from which beauty leant and smiled
Were stuffed with rags, or held a withered stick
Whence foul clothes hung to dry. Beneath an arch
Two long-haired women fought; while high above,
Heads thrust through broken panes, two shrill-voiced crones
Scolded each other. Hell-fire burst at night
Through the thin rind of the earth; the place was loud
With drunken strife, hoarse curses; then the cry
Of a lost woman by a ruffian felled
Made the blood stop [. . .][76

Alarmed by the threat to all the city’s inhabitants—the well-to-do as well as the poor—from the filth, crime and disease at its very heart, the generally progressive city fathers moved to remedy the situation. The Loch Katrine Water Works project described earlier was a significant part of their improvement plan. Then, in 1862, the Glasgow Police Act allowed the municipality to regulate small dwelling places (under 3,000 cubic feet), assess the maximum number of inhabitants permitted in each (on the basis of 300 cubic feet per adult and 150 cubic feet per child), “ticket” the dwelling accordingly with a tinplate disc screwed to the door and have the sanitary police carry out inspections during the night to ensure that the “ticketed” maximum had not been overstepped.[77] Apparently this measure was not effective, for it was decided only three years later to proceed to a complete demolition of the dilapidated, overcrowded and filthy tenements as the only effective remedy.

In 1865, Provost John Blackie (a partner with his father in the notable Glasgow publishing firm of Blackie & Son) and the progressive City Architect John Carrick drew up the City of Glasgow Improvements Bill, the purpose of which was to authorize the Town Council to buy up and tear down properties in a designated area. The Bill was passed by Parliament the following year, making Glasgow “the first municipality to take such action on a large scale.” “Indeed,” one scholar writes, “the improvements scheme, embarked on under the City of Glasgow Improvements Act of 1866, was by far the largest and most comprehensive single undertaking of this kind in the nineteenth century.”[78] As the area affected was also the oldest part of the city, the members of the City Improvement Trust resolved that, before demolition, photographs should be taken of the streets and their buildings to serve as a record of Old Glasgow. Thomas Annan was commissioned to carry out this assignment.

He began taking his photographs in 1868. When demolition began in 1871, he had taken over thirty. Despite the seemingly straightforward object of the commission, however—to create a record—these best-known of all Annan’s photographic images have since been the topic of lively and continuing discussion and debate. Perhaps the first comprehensive collection of photographs ever made of slum properties, are they an early example of the so-called “social documentary” photograph—“the first major achievement of socially critical photography,” in the words of a modern German scholar?[79] Did they appeal to the viewer’s moral conscience in order to bring about an improvement in the slum-dwellers’ lot? Or should they be viewed rather in the context of the esthetic of the “picturesque”—a mid-nineteenth-century anticipation, according to many scholars, of the Pictorialism advocated by Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen at the end of the century and in the early decades of the twentieth? Do they or do they not depict the extreme filth and squalor emphasized, as we have seen, by all those who wrote about Glasgow’s slums, and if not, what to make of that fact? Was the photographer, in sum, moved primarily by esthetic considerations—composing a formally interesting photograph—rather than by purely documentary, let alone moral considerations? What, in particular, is the role of the human figures in many of the images? Are they a focus of interest in themselves or are they simply staffage, providing a sense of scale as in landscape paintings and photographs? Do they convey the alleged degradation and dehumanization of the slum’s inhabitants or could they be intended, in contrast, to manifest the inhabitants’ humanity? Critical opinion is divided or ambivalent on all those questions. In those cases where the inhabitants of the slums are distinctly portrayed—sometimes in groups—and must therefore, in view of the required long exposure times, have agreed to pose, how did Annan win their cooperation? Why are some of the scenes of notoriously teeming and horrifically overcrowded buildings shown as pure street architecture, devoid of any human presence? And how was this clearing of the streets accomplished? Was it by persuasion or with help from the city authorities (i.e. the police)? What, in short, was Annan’s relation to the inhabitants of the old closes and streets? Did he view them simply as material for his camera or as forlorn objects of compassion and Christian charity? Or did he regard them, interact with them, and portray them as fellow human beings?


[LEFT]: 6:4 Jacob Riis, “Bandits’ Roost,” from his How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York, with Illustrations chiefly from Photographs taken by the Author (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1890), p. 63. Wikimedia. 
[RIGHT]: 6:5 Jacob Riis, “Mullen’s Alley, Cherry Hill.” 1888. Museum Syndicate.

The problem of interpreting the photographs is compounded by two factors. First, Annan’s own taciturnity. In the volumes on the country houses, the old College of Glasgow, and the Loch Katrine Water Works, the texts, as noted earlier, are by others. The photographs in the first two albums of The Old Closes and Streets (1871 and 1878) are unaccompanied by any text at all, other than simple identifying captions. The 1878 album was to have contained “an introductory and descriptive letterpress,” but, in the event, it was put together without the planned text, which, in any case, would again not have been by Annan himself, but by the City Architect, John Carrick, an influential and energetic figure with strong ideas of his own. A volume published posthumously in a limited edition by Annan’s son, James Craig Annan, did contain an introductory text by the local antiquarian and artist William Young, but it dealt mostly with the history of Glasgow and its various quarters and streets and had nothing to say about the photographs themselves, other than that their value “consists in their true presentation or suggestion of the seamy side of the city’s life; in their depicting with absolute faithfulness the gloom and squalor of the slums” and thus affording “a peek into dark and dismal dens unvisited by the great purifying agencies of sun and wind.”[80] Whereas Jacob Riis’s photographs—published in the last decade of the nineteenth century in his book How the Other Half Lives and sometimes held to have been anticipated by those of Annan (Figs. 6:4-5)—are used to illustrate an extensive text in which the photographer-journalist himself exposes and denounces the squalid, inhuman conditions of life in the slums of New York, Annan offers no clue as to his own intentions or his own understanding of his work. Unlike those photographers who use text or extended captions to “‘fix’ the image, refusing it the right to vacillate between past and present, ideal and real,” in the words of a scholar of our own time, Annan’s silence, whether deliberate or fortuitous, places the burden of interpretation entirely on the viewer.[81]

A second difficulty in interpreting Annan’s photographs in The Old Closes and Streets is presented by the different techniques which, over the years, were employed to produce them and the different publics for which they were produced. Though at least some of the prints were probably first issued singly (Glasgow’s Mitchell Library has several in this form, a few with pasted-on title slips), a first folio album, bound in leather, was put together in 1871. This album, of which only four or five copies were produced and which has neither title page nor date, contained 31 albumen prints.[82] It was followed soon after, in 1878, by a second album, produced in response to a request from some members of the Improvement Trust that “a copy, in the form of an album, of the series of photographs taken some time ago of the more interesting portions of the City, since, to a great extent, demolished by the operations of the Improvement Scheme, should be furnished to each member of the Trust.” This album, of which some sixty copies were produced in heavy crushed green morocco binding, included nine additional photographs. Instead of the albumen prints of the first album, however, Annan made use, for this second album, of Joseph Swan’s carbon process.[83] Finally, in 1900, Annan’s son, James Craig Annan, brought out a larger photogravure edition, referred to above (p. 7), with additional photographs by the Annan firm—but not by Thomas Annan himself. This was published by the T. & R. Annan Company in a limited edition of 100 copies and by James MacLehose, the University publisher, in an edition of 150 copies.[84]

Each of these print processes—albumen, carbon, photogravure—has its own particular characteristics.[85] To what degree do the changes resulting from the different processes both reflect and create varying expectations and responses on the part of viewers? Thus, for example, the “phantoms” or “blurred ghosts” caused by persons or objects having moved during the relatively long exposure time—and regarded by some viewers as contributing to the overall effect of the earlier albumen prints[86]—are removed from the photogravure edition of 1900. Thomas Annan himself added clouds to the carbon prints, which in general are more clearly outlined than the albumen prints and, correspondingly, lack some of the tonal qualities of the latter. The order and even the selection of the plates also vary from one edition to another. Does that have an effect on the viewer’s reading of the series? How does history itself—the completely changed contexts in which the images have been encountered by members of the Improvement Trust in the 1870s, by readers of James Craig Annan’s publication of 1900, by readers of the 1977 Dover Publications re-edition of the photogravure version and by twenty-first-century viewers of any of these—affect the way in which the images are experienced? The diminished, post-industrial, finance-, culture-, and tourism-oriented Glasgow of the twenty-first century, with its trendy bars and restaurants and lively pop music scene, is a very different place from the nineteenth-century “Second City of the Empire.” As Ian Spring has pointed out

Today, in Glasgow shops you can purchase Annan’s photograph of No. 65 High Street in postcard form.[. . .] The reverse gives some details under the heading “Art Cards.” One generation’s misery incarnate becomes another’s consumable style. Today, shop windows are stocked with Annan prints framed for domestic consumption and countless city centre pubs and restaurants mount Glasgow’s old streets and closes on their walls.[87

I shall devote the remainder of this chapter to a closer consideration of two issues raised by the scholarly discussion of The Old Closes and Streets. First, should these striking photographs be seen as predominantly “documentary” or as predominantly “picturesque”? And second, is social documentary photography, as has sometimes been alleged, ultimately voyeuristic and exploitative, an act of aggression toward its “subjects”?

First then, “social documentary” or “picturesque”? Several critics have pointed out that the decision to demolish had already been taken before Annan moved in with his camera, and that his assignment was simply to record a significant piece of the city’s past that was about to be destroyed.[88] Contrary to what is often argued or simply assumed,[89] it is thus unlikely, these critics hold, that he “used his camera as a social weapon,” photographing the old closes and streets of Glasgow in order to draw attention to urban blight and promote action to correct it. In this respect, therefore, his work should probably not be seen as expressing the same concerns that animated Jacob Riis in his celebrated How the Other Half Lives (1890).[90] It is often pointed out that, unlike Riis, Annan did not photograph the interior of the slum dwellings and thus did not show the actual living conditions of the poor. The text accompanying Annan’s 1868 album of Photographs of Glasgow would also seem to lend support to the view that the photographer’s main objective in The Old Closes and Streets was not to expose and denounce a social evil but to make a record of what was about to vanish from view. “The High Street is the back-bone of the ancient city of St. Mungo,” the author of the text, the liberally-minded Rev. A.G. Forbes, wrote. “But the old look is fast disappearing even here.” Similarly, “the Saltmarket is not as it was, the domicile of provosts, bailies, and other civic dignitaries. [. . .] Eighty years ago it was otherwise. [. . .] In a house near the foot of Saltmarket, ‘Silvercraig’s land’, Oliver Cromwell lodged while in Glasgow, as Darnley, the husband of Mary, also had lodged, in Rottenrow, off High Street.” Forbes appears to have known of the upcoming demolition of the degraded buildings and to have accepted it as necessary for the health and wellbeing of their inhabitants and of the city as a whole. “One is sorry to lose the ancient landmarks.” Nevertheless, “if ventilation and health, material and moral, be the result, no matter.”[91]

If not motivated by social criticism, should Annan’s work then be seen as closer in spirit and intent, albeit more modest in scale, to that of certain French contemporaries, such as the photographers of the Missions héliographiques (Baldus, Bayard, Le Gray, Le Secq, Mestral), who had been charged by the Commission des monuments historiques with making a photographic record of all the country’s historic monuments, with special attention to those that were decayed or threatened with demolition; or, closer still, to the work of Charles Marville who, as official photographer for the city of Paris, had been commissioned in 1862 by the city’s Service des travaux historiques to record not only the great sites of the capital and the grandiose achievements of Haussmann, but also old streets and buildings, particularly those slated for demolition? (Figs. 5:15-16).[92]

This connection is all the more plausible as Provost Blackie and John Carrick, who were behind the slum demolition plan and the commission to make photographic records of the condemned streets and wynds, were enthusiastic admirers of the redesigning of Paris under Napoleon III and Haussmann, and had led a civic delegation from Glasgow to the French capital in June 1866, the very year in which the City Improvements Act was passed. Moreover, Carrick’s plans for the further development and reconstruction of the city incorporated wide and straight thoroughfares in the Haussmann style.[93] As Susan Sontag noted in her seminal work On Photography of 1973, referring in turn to Walter Benjamin’s “Kleine Geschichte der Photographie” of 1931: “From the start, photographers not only set themselves the task of recording a disappearing world but were so employed by those hastening its disappearance.”[94]

With all these officially appointed photographers, no less than with the artists employed by Taylor and Nodier in their multi-volume Voyages pittoresques et romantiques dans l’ancienne France (1820-1870), the goal of faithfully recording and documenting the national architectural heritage, or simply old buildings that had fallen into disrepair or were about to be torn down, was almost inevitably accompanied by a feeling for the “picturesque,” inasmuch as the picturesque, from the outset, was associated with the old, the decaying, the neglected or unappreciated.[95] The beautiful, according to one writer at the end of the eighteenth century, depends on “ideas of youth and freshness,” while the picturesque depends on “those of age, and even decay.” Thus Archibald Burns, a successful photographer of old streets and buildings in Edinburgh, entitled his 1868 volume Picturesque ‘Bits’ from Old Edinburgh. As a modern scholar has put it, “the picturesque became generalized to that which is multifarious, irregular, unevenly lit, worn, and strange. Everything that appeared smooth, bright, symmetrical, new, whole, and strong, on the other hand, was placed in the categories of the beautiful or the sublime.” Disengaged from notions of perfection and suitability and from such functions as moral enlightenment and edification (as in the formula of French classicism, “plaire et instruire”), rejecting established views of the beautiful and privileging the more refined esthetic sense required to appreciate unusual, non-traditional representations of the world, the “picturesque,” in the view of the same scholar, was “based on an over-functionalization of the esthetic.” As it is “more demanding to value something worn and decayed than to like [. . .] what is acknowledged as beautiful, [ . . .] the picturesque provides a test of whether the spectator is always able to assume the perspective of ‘disinterested pleasure’ that Kant designated as a precondition of the esthetic attitude.”[96] The purely documentary function of photography, the function most commonly attributed to the use of the camera, thus came to be associated, in the case of the documentation of old or decaying buildings, with a nascent counter-claim that photography is an artistic medium like painting.

The vogue of the “picturesque,” in short, reinforced the efforts of some photographers to win respect for photography as an art, rather than a merely utilitarian instrument for accurately recording reality—“an essentially indexed medium, [. . .] a direct light imprint on the model of the fingerprint or the death mask,” as one contemporary scholar has put it[97]—and for themselves as artists, more alert, in fact, than many academically trained painters to objects of unsuspected beauty and suggestiveness, rather than simply skilled technicians.[98] As suggested earlier, supporters of the calotype, as opposed to the more precise and detailed daguerreotype, had used the argument that Talbot’s process left more room than Daguerre’s for choice and decision-making on the part of the photographer. In The Pencil of Nature (1844) Talbot himself associated his work with that of the Dutch school of painters, among whom artistic sensitivity and technique were generally considered to have been combined with faithful representation of the real. “A painter’s eye,” Talbot wrote, “will often be arrested where ordinary people see nothing remarkable. A casual gleam of sunshine or a shadow thrown across his path, a time-withered oak, or a moss-covered stone may awaken a train of thoughts and feeling, and picturesque imaginings.”[99] Many of Talbot’s own photographs, such as “The Open Door” and “The Haystack,” exemplify this approach (Figs. 1:1-2). In 1860, Thomas Sutton, the editor of Photographic Notes, the journal of the Photographic Society of Scotland and the Manchester Photographic Society, was more specific: “Although photography is certainly a mechanical means of representing nature, yet, when we compare a really fine photograph with an ordinary mechanical view, we are compelled to admit that it exhibits mind, and appreciation of the beautiful and skill of selection and treatment of the subject on the part of the photographer, to a degree that constitute him an artist in a high sense of the word.”[100]


[LEFT]: 6:6 O.G. Rejlander, Swedish/English, 1813-1875, No title (The Virgin in Prayer). Ca.1858-60. National Gallery of Victoria Melbourne. Purchased 2002.
[RIGHT]: 6:7 Sassoferrato, “The Virgin in Prayer.” 1638-1652. Wikimedia.

Photographers were even urged sometimes to model themselves on painters—though this strategy did not necessarily coincide with cultivation of the picturesque. “There will be perhaps photograph Raphaels, photograph Titians,” The Photographic Journal, the organ of the Royal Photographic Society, predicted in 1857. The successful Swedish-born photographer Oscar Rejlander did indeed produce a photographic version (“The Virgin in Prayer” [1858-60]) of a mid-seventeenth-century Madonna by Sassoferrato, now in in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, and an elaborate photographic allegory (“Two Ways of Life” [1857]) inspired by Raphael’s “School of Athens” (Figs. 6:6-7).

The portrait painter Sir William Newton, who also happened to be a vice-president of the Royal Photographic Society in the 1850s, urged photographers to seek artistic effects rather than a mere copy of nature. “The whole subject might be a little out of focus,” he suggested, “thereby giving a greater breadth of effect, and consequently more suggestive of the true character of Nature.”[101]

The view of photography as an art that must be guided by concerns similar to those of the painter was even more vigorously defended three decades later by Frank Sutcliffe, the admired photographer of the fishing town of Whitby and its inhabitants and an early member of the Linked Ring, the British group advocating what was shortly afterwards defined as Pictorialism: “A picture must have a pattern. And it is this pattern most of them lack. It is this pattern, or pleasing combination of line and mass, that the artist considers of greater importance than any historical facts which may be found in his subject, and he does not hesitate to sacrifice the latter to the former.”[102] In short, the photograph is not simply a mechanical copy of the real: it can be manipulated, and therein lies its claim to be art. In France, in an 1851 article in La Lumière, the earliest of all photographic journals, Francis Wey explained that, unlike the daguerreotype, the calotype “works with masses, disdaining detail as a gifted master painter does [. . .] and choosing to emphasize formal qualities in one place and tonal qualities in another.” That is why “the taste of the individual photographer can be discerned clearly enough in his work for the experienced amateur, on seeing a photograph produced by the paper process, to be able to identify the photographer that made it.”[103]

6:8 Thomas Annan, “Closes, Nos. 97 and 103 Saltmarket,” from the album Glasgow Improvements Act 1866. Photographs of Streets, Closes, &c. Taken 1866-71, Plate 28. Albumen print. Graphic Arts Collection, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Thomas Annan did not often express himself on the question whether photography is an art (though his better-known son James Craig Annan, another early member of the Linked Ring, asserted unequivocally that it is[104]). Still, in at least one case—a view of the Palace of Linlithgow—there is material evidence that he sketched the scene he wanted to photograph and made notes to himself about lighting conditions and the best times of day for camera work.[105] Even from a technical point of view, photographing in the dark closes of Glasgow must have required close attention to the conditions of light at different times of day and, in view of the long exposure times needed, to controlling the movement of people in order to avoid excessive blurring. In addition, the wet collodion process made necessary by the generally poor light conditions required a great deal of equipment, considerable preparation, and further work immediately after the pictures had been taken. The pictures were thus necessarily composed with care, and while it was not Annan’s brief to depict the universally denounced squalor of the old closes and streets but only the closes and streets themselves, it is striking that, in the view of many (though by no means all) commentators, the photographs do not, on the whole, convey a deeply disturbing sense of squalor or degradation (with some notable exceptions, such as “Closes 97 and 103 Saltmarket”)[106] (Fig. 6:8).


[LEFT]: 6:9 Thomas Annan, “Close, No. 93 High Street,” from Glasgow Improvements Act 1866, Plate 9. Albumen print. Graphic Arts Collection, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library. 
[CENTER]: 6:10 Thomas Annan, “Close, No. 75 High Street,” from Glasgow Improvements Act 1866, Plate 7. Albumen print. Graphic Arts Collection, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library. 
[RIGHT]: 6:11 Thomas Annan, “Old Vennel off High Street,” from Glasgow Improvements Act 1866, Plate 14. Albumen print. Graphic Arts Collection, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

The alleys are dark and rundown, to be sure, but not especially dirty. On the contrary, there are few signs of refuse in them and the lines of washing hung out over them in many of the pictures—“Annan’s slumdwellers are perplexingly fastidious launderers of linen,” one scholar remarks[107]—not only suggest a concern with cleanliness on the part of the inhabitants but provide a formally effective horizontal complement to the high, somber and close-packed verticals of the walls. An occasional silvery rivulet running down a cobbled alleyway might have been the effluent deplored by sanitary inspectors rather than simply rain water, but it also functions to enliven the scene and guide the eye. Similarly, isolated figures in some of the photographs appear, with a few exceptions, fairly clean and decently, if not well, clothed (albeit the children are usually barefoot), bearing little resemblance to the wretched creatures described in the written reports on the slums. Often they seem strategically placed to draw the eye along in the direction desired by the photographer; in other cases, they are grouped or framed in such a way as to be themselves part of the formal design of the photograph—again bearing little resemblance to the destitute and degraded denizens of the published reports (Figs. 6:9-18).


[LEFT]: 6:12 Thomas Annan, “Close, No. 37 High Street,” from Glasgow Improvements Act 1866, Plate 5. Albumen print. Graphic Arts Collection, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library. 
[CENTER]: 6:13 Thomas Annan, “Close, No. 29 Gallowgate,” from Glasgow Improvements Act 1866, Plate 18. Albumen print. Graphic Arts Collection, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.
[RIGHT]: 6:14 Thomas Annan, “Close, No. 128 Saltmarket,” from Glasgow Improvements Act 1866, Plate 24. Albumen print. Graphic Arts Collection, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

In the words of the scholar who wrote the Introduction to the 1977 Dover Publications re-edition of The Old Closes and Streets, “Annan’s approach was not what we would call straight.” In the 1878 carbon prints, “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.”[108] Among Annan’s own contemporaries, the Rev. A.G. Forbes, author of the texts accompanying Photographs of Glasgow (1868), refers to him repeatedly as “our artist,”[109] while, as noted earlier in chapter 4, a reviewer of a Photographic Society show in London described Annan’s landscapes as of such “high artistic merit” that their creator “must rank amongst our first class artists.” As early as 1864, in a letter to the Photographic Society of Scotland on the occasion of his having been awarded the Society’s silver medal for a photograph of Dumbarton Castle, Annan himself professed that “my constant aim is to make my Photographs like Pictures and I am happy to think that my efforts are not altogether unsuccessful.” Two decades later, near the end of his life, in May 1884, he gave a lecture at a meeting of the Photographic Society in Edinburgh on the topic “Art in Photo Landscapes.”[110] It is not implausible, in short, to argue that formal design was a concern of Annan’s.[111]

The formal, esthetic impact of Annan’s photographs of the old closes and streets has aroused puzzlement and even discomfort in some of the best informed and most experienced students of his work. Sara Stevenson, for instance, in the handsome brochure on Annan put out by the National Galleries of Scotland in its “Scottish Masters” series, notes tha

The photographs are undeniably beautiful. Annan used his knowledge and control of the collodion process to achieve the same kind of subtle light and detail that appear in his landscape photographs. He must have explored the wynds at length, waiting for the best time of day, when light crept in. He used the trickling gutters to make elegant lines of light. He relished the hanging washing which made the closes even more dark, and one or two of the photographs are more about these hanging clothes—the flapping shirts and the little lines of socks—than about the buildings he was paid to photograph. Annan may even have been thinking of Turner while taking these pictures, considering Turner’s remark about the need to paint in the clothes hung by bargemen on their boats’ shrouds ‘to break the perpendicular and unpleasantly straight lines.’ [. . .] Seeing beauty and poetry in photographs of slums makes us rightly uneasy and doubtful about the photographer—if the photographs are beautiful can he have been concerned about the squalor? [. . .] It is a disconcerting fact that pollution can be beautiful. Iridescent bubbles on a stream are magical until they are recognized as industrial effluent and become ugly.[112]

6:15 Thomas Annan, “Close, No. 80 High Street,” from Glasgow Improvements Act 1866, Plate 13. Albumen print. Graphic Arts Collection, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Ray McKenzie, the author of several illuminating essays on Annan, writing of the forty images of slum properties gathered in the 1878 album, acknowledges that “the tension between their function as documents and their status as aesthetic objects is [. . .] problematic. It is impossible to look at a photograph such as Close, No. 80 High Street without an uncomfortable sense of the ambiguity of our own position as contemporary observers; we are simultaneously appalled by what it tells us about a human situation and thrilled by its uniquely seductive qualities as a photographic print.” (Fig. 6:15)[113] The late Margaret Harker considered that “the strange and lasting fascination of these photographs” is in fact due to the “curious combination between the picturesque and the sordid in Annan’s interpretation of the Glasgow slums.”[114] The ten-word e-mail reaction of a friend, the architect and photographer Alan Chimacoff, when I introduced him to The Old Closes and Streets, is by no means untypical: “Beautiful stuff . . . if that sort of stuff can be beautiful.”[115]


[LEFT]: 6:16 Thomas Annan, “Close, No. 28 Saltmarket,” from Glasgow Improvements Act 1866, Plate 21. Albumen print. Graphic Arts Collection, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library. 
[RIGHT]: 6:17 Thomas Annan, “Close, No. 118 High Street,” from Glasgow Improvements Act 1866, Plate 15. Reproduced from the photogravure edition of 1900, Old Closes and Streets: A Series of Photogravures 1868-1899 (Glasgow: T. & R. Annan & Sons, 1900), Plate 6. Graphic Arts Collection, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

In fact, Annan’s concern with form and the “restraint” with which, in the view of some scholars,[116] he represented the filthy, degraded, violent reality of the old closes (as described by the reformers, missionaries and sanitary inspectors who dared venture into them) may well go hand in hand with a distinctive vision of the slum-dwellers themselves. Sometimes they do seem to be little more than staffage—of a piece with and virtually inseparable from the texture of the stone walls they are pressed against or enclosed by. But sometimes, as in “28 Saltmarket,” “118 High Street” and “46 Saltmarket” (Figs. 6:16-18)—the last of these curiously not included by James Craig Annan in his 1900 photogravure edition—they have a simple dignity that is rarely evoked in the written reports of missionaries and reformers. The primary intent of Annan’s photographs may well not have been—not, at least, in the first instance—that of a social reformer like Riis, namely to awaken the compassion of comfortably-off, middle-class viewers with a moral conscience for the victims of greedy landlords, or horror and indignation at the conditions in which the poor are obliged to live, or uneasiness and fear in the face of a threateningly alien environment.[117] Nor, in contrast to the engravings based on daguerreotypes by Richard Beard in Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor (1851) (Figs. 6:19-20) or even to the photographs by fellow-Scot John Thomson in his much admired Street Life in London (1878) (Figs. 1:24-25), does Annan exploit and update the traditional “Cries of London” genre: stereotypes of street people or “nomades,” as Thomson describes them, such as the costermonger, the pie-man, the flower-seller, the sweep, the shoe-black, the rat-catcher, the “Jew old-clothes man”—all of whom, as Thomas Prasch has pointed out, represent “marginal” and “static forms of labor largely unchanged by the forces of industrial society.”[118]

6:18 Thomas Annan, “Close, No. 46 Saltmarket,” from Glasgow Improvements Act 1866, Plate 22. Albumen print. Graphic Arts Collection, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

First and foremost, it seems to me, Annan’s photographs ask us as viewers to respect the people in them, to recognize them, not as “the poor,” or “street people,” or “arabs”—the term by which the homeless and uprooted or the denizens of city slums were often referred to, as though to emphasize that they were virtually of a different “race” from “us”—but simply as human beings.[119] Annan’s people, both singly and in groups are not “other” (to be pitied or assisted or feared) as in some “social documentary” photographs of the time. In the group portraits especially, the figures represented seem to assert their humanity, overwhelmed, hemmed in and rendered fragile as it is by the somber and oppressive mass of their stony environment.[120] Given that the unavoidably long exposure times required his human subjects to remain absolutely still for several minutes, Annan clearly had to win their goodwill and co-operation. That he apparently did so (albeit with understandably less success in the case of young children) would suggest that, instead of regarding him with suspicion, as they often looked on sanitary inspectors, advocates of church attendance and abstention from alcoholic drinks, and similarly well-meaning but interfering outsiders, the inhabitants of the closes (most of them probably poor Irish immigrants) may have seen him as a friendly figure and been pleased or flattered to be selected for portrayal in his photographs—unless, of course, though this seems unlikely, they were rewarded for their co-operation. It may even be that some of them—like the centrally positioned, self-assured male figures, especially the young boy with arms akimbo, looking directly, almost defiantly, at the camera in “Close, no. 46 Saltmarket”—took advantage of the opportunity provided by the photographer to assert themselves and challenge the viewer to acknowledge them, instead of playing only a passive role as the photographer’s “subjects,” in the full sense of that word. It may be, in other words, that there was a reciprocal relationship between the photographer and his “subjects,” that they had their motives in posing for him just as he had his reasons for having them pose (Fig. 6:18).

6:19 “The London Costermonger.” Engraving of daguerreotype photograph by Richard Beard in Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor: A Cyclopædia of the Condition and Earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work (London: Griffin, Bohn & Co., 1861), vol. 1, facing p. 12. Princeton University Library.

Nevertheless—and this is the second of the two issues I would like to explore briefly—a major criticism remains to be considered, one that goes to the heart of any photography that presents itself as having a social documentary intent while at the same time pursuing formal and compositional goals, and that thus necessarily affects Annan’s work in some measure. Hinted at in Ian Spring’s reference to the vogue of Annan’s photographs of the old closes in twenty-first-century, post-industrial Glasgow, this issue is raised and discussed by Susan Sontag in her now classic essays on photography. “There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera,” Sontag asserts. “To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed.”[121]

6:20 “The Jew Old-Clothes Man.” Engraving of daguerreotype photograph by Richard Beard in Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, vol. 2, facing p. 118.

The maker and the viewer of social documentary photographs, in short, easily become voyeurs, engaged by spectacle, sensitive to design and largely indifferent to the reality of which the photograph purports to provide a faithful representation: “Photographing is essentially an act of non-intervention. [. . .] The person who intervenes cannot record, the person who is recording cannot intervene.” Even though “an event known through photographs certainly becomes more real than it would have been if one had never seen the photographs,” in the end “images transfix. Images anaesthetize. [. . .] Aesthetic distance seems built into the very experience of looking at photographs, if not right away, then certainly with the passage of time.”[122] Writing in the midst of a wave of reaction against the Pictorialism of Alfred Stieglitz and his successors, Sontag cites Walter Benjamin on photography’s estheticizing tendency: “The camera is now incapable of photographing a tenement or a rubbish heap without transfiguring it, not to mention a river dam or electric cable factory; in front of these photography can only say ‘how beautiful’ [. . .] It has succeeded in turning abject poverty itself, by handling it in a modish, technically perfect way, into an object of enjoyment.”[123] As a result, according to Sontag, “whatever the moral claims made on behalf of photography, its main effect is to convert the world into a department store or museum-without-walls in which every subject is depreciated into an article of consumption, promoted into an item for aesthetic appreciation.”[124]


[LEFT]: 6:21 Lewis Hine, “Luigi, 6-years-old newsboy-beggar, Sacramento, California.” 1915. Gelatin silver print. Wikimedia.
[RIGHT]: 6:22 Lewis Hine, “Child-laborer.” 1908. Digital file from original glass negative. Wikimedia.

Among many examples of “documentary” photographs that have ceased to function as social criticism or even primarily as historical records and now function almost exclusively as art—or that were in fact always positioned astride the boundary separating documentation and art—one could cite the beautifully composed photographs of exploitative child labour by Lewis Hine in the early years of the twentieth century, some of the photographs taken by Dr. Barnardo and his missionaries in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and the work of Depression-era photographers such as Dorothea Lange (Figs. 6:21-22).

6:23 Colonel William Willoughby Hooper, “Victims of the Madras Famine.” 1876. Albumen print. Museum Syndicate.

An earlier, disturbing example of the “voyeuristic” character of seemingly social documentary photography is offered by Captain Willoughby Wallace Hooper’s photographs of victims of the 1876-1879 Madras famine. A keen photographer who had contributed to the 468 images in an eight-volume work inspired by Lord Canning, Governor-General of India from 1856 to 1862 (The People of India, ed. John Forbes Watson and John William Kaye, London, 1868-1875), Captain Hooper took a number of powerful and horrifying but carefully-composed photographs of skeletal victims of the famine (Fig. 6:23).

These, it has been alleged, were “sold commercially” and “circulated in private photograph collections, commercially produced albums, and as postcards into the early twentieth century.”[125] Whether they were ever primarily intended to provoke action in favor of the victims remains moot. Hooper is said to have had famine-stricken families brought to him to be photographed and to have then sent them away without feeding them. In addition, during the Third Burmese War (1885) he photographed prisoners he himself had ordered to be executed at the precise moment of their execution, planning to have the images produced commercially and offered for sale. It appears almost certain, in short, that there was little, if any, connection for this seemingly social documentary photographer between viewing and acting, recording and intervening.[126] Indeed, Hooper may well have come disturbingly close to the situation imagined by Guillaume Apollinaire in his short story, “Un beau film” of 1901, and by the French director Bertrand Tavernier in his mordant movie, “La Mort en direct,” of 1980 (“shot,” as it happens, in Glasgow), in which the desire to photograph real scenes of extreme human violence or anguish leads the artist wielding a camera to provoke such scenes for the purpose of recording them. In Apollinaire’s story, the film-maker takes care to assure the public that the violent murder scene he set up and then captured on film was not simply staged but really took place. The public responds enthusiastically and the film becomes a huge financial success.[127]

The power relation underlying both the act of photographing social scenes and the viewing of such photographs is a central motif of recent critical writing on photography by the artist Martha Rosler and the critic John Tagg. “The insistence that the ordered world of business-as-usual take account of [. . .] a reality newly elevated into consideration simply by being photographed and thus exemplified and made concrete,” Rosler notes, writing from what appears to be a Marxist or Benjaminian perspective, is not accompanied by any analysis of how the situation represented came about. “The meliorism of Riis, Lewis Hine, and others involved in social-work propagandizing argued [. . .] for the rectification of wrongs. It did not perceive these wrongs as fundamental to the social system that tolerated them. The assumption that they were tolerated rather than bred marks a basic fallacy of social work. [ . . .] Documentary photography has been much more comfortable in the company of moralism than wedded to a rhetoric or program of revolutionary politics.” Ultimately, “the exposé, the compassion and outrage of documentary fueled by the dedication to reform has shaded over into combinations of exoticism, tourism, voyeurism . . .”[128]

For his part, John Tagg, who acknowledges his indebtedness to Michel Foucault, sees “the insatiable appropriations of the camera” as one of the ways in which a power relationship is manifested and maintained

Whether it is John Thomson in the streets of London or Thomas Annan in the slums of Glasgow; [. . .] whether it is Jacob Riis among the ‘poor,’ the ‘idle’ and the ‘vicious’ of Mulberry Bend or Captain Hooper among the victims of the Madras famine of 1876: what we see is the extension of a ‘procedure of objectification and subjection’ [. . .]. Photography as such has no identity. [. . .] Its nature as a practice depends on the institutions and agents which define it and set it to work. [. . .] Photography does not transmit a pre-existent reality which is already meaningful in itself. As with any other discursive system, the question we must ask is not, ‘What does this discourse reveal of something else?’ but ‘what does it do: what are its conditions of existence, [. . .] how does it animate meaning rather than discover it?’ [. . .]

Hence the questions:

Why were photographs of working-class subjects, working-class trades, working-class housing, and working-class recreations made in the nineteenth century? By whom? Under what conditions? For what purposes?[129]

In Annan’s case, an answer to Professor Tagg’s questions has been provided, at least in some measure I hope, in the course of this essay. Annan’s pictures of the old closes and streets were the product of a commission by the municipal authorities of Glasgow which sought to retain a record of the dilapidated old buildings in the city center, the demolition of which had been authorized at least as much in the interest of the health of the city as a whole as in the interest of the slum-dwellers themselves. (Provision for rehousing the latter was in fact inadequate; the new accommodations were too expensive for many of the displaced, and photographs taken decades later reveal slum conditions hardly improved over those photographed by Annan [Fig. 6:23].)

As urbanization proceeded apace in the nineteenth century and the traditional fabric and appearance of cities underwent drastic transformations, similar commissions were issued in other cities, notably Paris. Making, preserving and collecting records, written and visual, was in fact a major preoccupation of the century of revolutionary change. While conscientiously executing the task assigned to him, however, Annan also seems to have wanted to give a human face to the often luridly described inhabitants of the condemned tenements.

At the same time, it is certainly the case that Annan’s work—particularly in The Old Closes and Streets—has come to be appreciated by later generations unfamiliar with the concerns of the photographer’s contemporaries not only or mainly for its value as a record of a vanished past or as a testimony to its own time (that is, to the ideas and outlook of the photographer and his contemporaries), but for itself, for its timeless formal and evocative qualities, in other words, as art.[130] There is no strong evidence, as we saw, that Thomas Annan deliberately and consciously used his camera “creatively,” to “make art”—as the Pictorialists were to do soon after him—rather than to record empirical reality. But as a landscape and portrait photographer, an experienced and much admired photographer of paintings, a good friend of several painters and an engraver of paintings before he took up photography, he almost inevitably had the painter’s approach to landscapes, cityscapes and portraits in mind when making his photographs. As he himself declared in his letter to the Photographic Society of Scotland, quoted earlier: “My constant aim is to make my Photographs like Pictures.”

Toward the end of the essay “Photographic Evangels” in her On Photography, Susan Sontag defines photography as a medium, like language, rather than an art form

Although photography generates works that can be called art—it requires subjectivity, it can lie, it gives esthetic pleasure—photography is not, to begin with an art form at all. Like language it is a medium in which works of art (among other things) are made. Out of language one can make scientific discourse, bureaucratic memoranda, love letters, grocery lists, and Balzac’s Paris. Out of photography one can make passport pictures, weather photographs, pornographic pictures, X-rays, wedding pictures, and Atget’s Paris.[131]

6:24 Glasgow Sanitary Department, “Roslin Place and Burnside Street near Garscube Road in Cowcaddens.” 1920s. Photograph reproduced by courtesy of Glasgow Museums Collection.

If Sontag’s view of photography as comparable to language has some merit, it may be useful to pursue it further. A verbal text does not have to be defined solely by its ostensible genre or function: some historical or biographical narratives, some works of political or economic theory or of philosophy are also, by common consent, great works of literature. One thinks immediately of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Michelet’s Histoire de France, Boswell’s Life of Johnson, Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws or Nietzsche’s Gay Science, not to mention, in antiquity, Plutarch, Herodotus or Tacitus. In similar fashion, photographs may fulfil one or more functions of the medium. Roman Jakobson’s six communication functions of the speech act would seem to apply equally to photography: “referential” (emphasis on the informational content of the message), “aesthetic or poetic” (emphasis on the message itself), “emotive or expressive” (emphasis on the sender and her or his feelings), “conative or vocative” (emphasis on persuading or arousing a response in the receiver or addressee), “phatic” (emphasis on the channel of communication) and “metalingual” (emphasis on the shared code of communication, “self-referential”).[132] And in photography, as in any speech act or verbal text, while the emphasis may fall or be perceived to fall by the viewer, as by the listener or reader, on one or another of these functions, the others are not thereby abolished.

However conscientiously “referential” they may be in providing the record he was commissioned by the Improvements Trust to produce, Thomas Annan’s photographs do not exclude or eliminate “aesthetic,” “expressive” or “conative” functions. Different viewers at different times may focus on the information the photographs provide, their formal characteristics, the mood they manifest or seek to evoke, or the lesson they urge on us, and they may judge Annan to have himself emphasized one or another of these functions. The strength of Annan’s work may well lie precisely in its ability to stimulate a variety of different readings and responses corresponding to the function that the viewer chooses to perceive as dominant.[133]

Nevertheless, as Roland Barthes has powerfully argued, the referential function in photography—where the referent, unlike the content of Jakobson’s verbal message, is a particular, concrete object—is fundamental in a way that distinguishes photography from painting or discourse. As Barthes’ argument seems to me relevant to the work of Thomas Annan, I will close this chapter by quoting from it at some length. “What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once,” Barthes writes. “The Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially. [. . .] It is the absolute Particular.”[134]

Photography’s Referent is not the same as the referent of other systems of representation. I call “photographic referent” not the optionally real thing to which an image or a sign refers but the necessarily real thing which has been placed before the lens, without which there would be no photograph. Painting can feign reality without having seen it. Discourse combines signs which have referents, of course, but these referents can be and are most often “chimeras.” Contrary to these imitations, in Photography I can never deny that the thing has been there. There is a superimposition here: of reality and the past. And since this constraint exists only for Photography, we must consider it, by reduction, as the very essence, the noeme of Photography. What I intentionalize in a photograph [. . .] is neither Art nor Communication, it is Reference, which is the founding order of Photography. [. . .]

In the Photograph, what I posit is not only the absence of the object; it is also, by one and the same movement, on equal terms, the fact that this object has indeed existed and that it has been there where I see it.[135]


65. As early as 1828, in the “Sketch of the Progress of Glasgow” that opened Joseph Swan’s Select Views of Glasgow and its Environs, engraved by Joseph Swan from drawings by Mr. J. Fleming and Mr. J. Knox (Glasgow: Joseph Swan, 1828), John Leighton described the city’s many “chemical manufactories,” among which “the works of Messrs Charles Tennant & Coy are considered the largest in the world, and cover many acres of ground.” (pp. ix-x) Two decades later James Pagan again referred to “the vast extent of the iron and engineering trades of Glasgow” and described Charles Tennant’s St. Rollox chemical works, founded in 1800, as “the most extensive manufactory of the kind in the world, covering a space of upwards of ten acres”—soon to be 100 acres—and employing over a thousand workers (Fig. 6:1). The “monster chimney,” erected in 1843 “for the purpose of carrying off any noxious gases which might arise in the process of their manufacture” and known as “Tennant’s stalk”—one of hundreds that came to be part of the cityscape in those years—is said to have “stood 500 feet above the street” and was the tallest structure of its kind in the world (James Pagan, Sketch of the History of Glasgow [Glasgow: Robert Stuart, 1847], pp. 89-90). By 1870, 70% of all the world’s iron vessels and two-thirds of all steamships were built on the Clyde (Allan Massie, Glasgow: Portraits of a City [London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1989], p. 54). In the years just before the First World War, 80% of the world’s sugar-refining machinery, 71% of its railway locomotives and 18% of its ships were built in Glasgow and Clydeside. (Seán Damer, Glasgow: Going for a Song [London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990], pp. 39-40)

66. Allan Massie, Glasgow: Portraits of a City, p. 63. In 1891, the author of Glasgow and its Environs: A Literary, Commercial and Social Review, Past and Present (London: Stratten and Stratten, 1891) referred in the opening pages to “this large and stately city—the second in the British Empire [. . .], this great Scottish hive of industry,” whose “wonderfully advanced municipal institutions have often been pointed out as models for the imitation of cities slower in growth, if more aristocratic in reputation.” (p. 7) On the history of Glasgow in the nineteenth century, see Hamish Fraser and Irene Maver, eds., Glasgow, vol. II: 1830 to 1912 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996), the richly documented general history of Irene Maver, Glasgow (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), the last section of the handsomely illustrated architectural history by Carol Foreman, Lost Glasgow: Glasgow’s Lost Architectural Heritage (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2002), pp. 138-207 and the moving account of the transformation of the city, section by section, from its industrial heyday to the present in two books by Ian. R. Mitchell, This City Now: Glasgow and its Working-Class Past (Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2004) and A Glasgow Mosaic: Explorations among the City’s Architectural Icons (Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2013). Population figures given by Rev. A.G. Forbes in the text accompanying Annan’s Photographs of Glasgow (1868) were 12,700 in 1708, just after the Treaty of Union; 77,385 in 1801; 147,043 in 1821; 448,639 at the census of 1861 (4th unnumbered page of the Introduction). Until 1912, population figures did not include contiguous but still administratively independent areas such as Govan and Partick.

67. In one twelve-day period in 1847, no fewer than 12,940 poor Irish landed directly in Glasgow or in nearby Ardrossan (Damer, Glasgow Going for a Song, p. 54). In 1851, nearly 60,000 immigrants arrived from Ireland and Irish immigrants made up over 18% of the city’s population (Fraser and Maver: Glasgow, vol. II, p. 149). In the words of Friedrich Engels, “the rapid expansion of British industry could not have taken place if there had not been available a reserve of labour among the poverty-stricken people of Ireland.” (The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, trans. and ed. W.O. Henderson and W.H. Chaloner [Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1968 (1958)], p. 104) While immigrants from other parts of Scotland tended to seek accommodation in newer tenements outside the city center, the totally impoverished Irish settled in their thousands in the cheapest dwellings they could find, that is, in the crowded tenements of the old city. (Michael Pacione, Glasgow: The Socio-spatial Development of the City [Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 1995], p. 113)

68. Friedrich Engels, Condition of the Working Class, ed. cit., p. 42. Because of this feature of Scottish townhouses, the situation in the old town of Edinburgh in the nineteenth century, while not as acute as in Glasgow, also provoked horror and indignation in well-meaning visitors; see, for instance, George Bell, M.D., Day and Night in the Wynds of Edinburgh (Edinburgh: Johnstone & Hunter, 1849 [3rd ed.]).

69. Edwin Chadwick, Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Gt. Britain, with an Introduction by M.W. Flinn (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, [1965]), p. 99. On the previous page Chadwick gives a gruesome account of his own inspection, with Dr. Neil Arnott, of dwellings in the rundown, poor sections of Glasgow: “‘We entered a dirty low passage like a house door, which led from the street through the first house to a square court immediately behind, which court, with the exception of a narrow path around it leading to another long passage through a second house, was occupied entirely as a dung receptacle of the most disgusting kind. Beyond this court the second passage led to a second square court, occupied in the same way by its dunghill; and from this court there was yet a third passage leading to a third court, and third dungheap. There were no privies or drains there, and the dungheaps received all filth which the swarm of wretched inhabitants could give; and we learned that a considerable part of the rent of the houses was paid by the produce of the dungheaps. Thus, worse off than wild animals, many of which withdraw to a distance and conceal their ordure, the dwellers in these courts had converted their shame into a kind of money by which their lodging was to be paid. The interiors of these houses and their inmates corresponded with the exteriors. We saw half-dressed wretches crowding together to be warm; and in one bed, although in the middle of the day, several women were imprisoned under a blanket, because as many others who had on their backs all the articles of dress that belonged to the party were then out of doors in the streets. This picture is so shocking that, without ocular proof, one would be disposed to doubt the possibility of the facts.”

70. “On the Health of the Working Classes in Large Towns,” The Artizan, no. X (October 31, 1843), 228-31 (pp. 230-31), quoted by Engels, Condition of the Working Class, ed. cit., p. 45. See also the passage from J.C. Symons, Arts and Artisans at Home and Abroad (1839) quoted by the editors of the 1968 Stanford University Press edition of Engels on p. 46, footnote 2: “This district is bounded by the Clyde and the Trongate and extends in length from the Saltmarket to the Briggate. There are other similar districts skirting the High Street […] The wynds near the Trongate are, however, the densest and the dirtiest . . . This quarter consists of a labyrinth of lanes, varying from 7 to 14 feet in width, out of which numberless entrances open into small square courts, appropriately designated ’closes’, with houses, many of them in a dilapidated state [. . .], and a common dunghill, reeking with filth in the centre. Revolting as was the outward appearance of these places, I confess I was little prepared for the filth and destitution within. In some of these lodging rooms we found a whole lair of human beings littered along the floor, sometimes 15 and 20 in number, some clothed and some naked, men, women, and children, all huddled promiscuously together. Their bed consisted of a layer of musty straw, intermixed with ambiguous looking rags, of which it was difficult to discover any other feature than their intense dirtiness.” In the same vein, Dr. D. Smith, one of the city’s District Surgeons, in 1843: “The tenements in which I have visited are occupied from the cellars to the attics. [. . .] The entrance to these abodes is generally through a close, not unfrequently some inches deep with water or mud, or the fluid part of every kind of filth, carelessly thrown down from unwillingness to go with it to one of the common receptacles; and in every close there is at least one of these places, situated immediately under the windows of the dwelling-houses, or together with byres, stables, etc., forming the ground floor, while the stench arising therefrom pollutes the neighbourhood and renders the habitations above almost intolerable.” (Quoted by Damer, Glasgow: Going for a Song, p. 74)

71. Quoted by Engels, Condition of the Working Class, ed. cit., pp. 45-46.

72. Notes of Travel, 4 vols., vol. 2, pp. 110-11 (May 1, 1856) and pp. 378-79 (July 1, 1857) in The Complete Writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, 22 vols., vol. 20 (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1900).

73. Damer, Glasgow: Going for a Song, p. 76; Michael Pacione, Glasgow: The Socio-spatial Development of the City, p. 117.

74. See Chadwick, Report on the Sanitary Condition (1842), p. 397: “When Dr. Arnott with myself and others were examining the abodes of the poorest classes in Glasgow and Edinburgh, we were regarded with astonishment; and it was frequently declared by the inmates, that they had never for many years witnessed the approach or the presence of persons of that condition” [i.e. “persons of the wealthier classes living in the immediate vicinity”].

75. Glasgow: Thomas Murray, 1858. Preface, p. v. The author’s name, “Shadow,” was a pseudonym of Alexander Brown, a local letterpress printer.

76. Alexander Smith, “A Boy’s Poem,” Part I, in his City Poems (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1857), pp. 122-23.

77. On measures taken to deal with slum conditions, both nationally and locally, in the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century, see C.M. Allan, “The Genesis of British Urban Redevelopment with special reference to Glasgow,” pp. 599-602; on measures taken in Glasgow in particular, ibid., p. 603.

78. Ibid., p. 604. According to Carol Foreman, the area affected covered 90 acres, with a population of 50,000. “The Act empowered the Corporation to form thirty-nine new streets and to realign twelve others; to compulsorily acquire old properties and demolish them; to dispose of the ground released on lease or feu; and to control rebuilding. In addition, the Act allowed the Corporation to acquire land for the purposes of rehousing the dispossessed tenants and to erect and maintain on any of the lands acquired by it such dwelling houses for mechanics, labourers and other persons of the working and poorer classes.” (Lost Glasgow, pp. 143-44)

79. Wilfried Wiegand, Frühzeit der Photographie 1826-1890 (Frankfurt: Societätsverlag, 1980), p. 217.

80. The Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow (Glasgow: J. MacLehose and Sons, 1900), p. 22.

81. On the use of text and captions by photographers to “’fix’ the image, refusing it the right to vacillate between past and present, ideal and real,” see the comments of Shelley Rice on Edward S. Curtis’s monumental The North American Indian (twenty volumes of illustrated text and twenty supplementary portfolios of unbound gravures, 1907-1930) in her article “When Objects Dream,” The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century, ed. Andrew Roth (New York: PPP Editions, 2001), pp. 3-33 (p. 5).

82. Though the album is untitled and undated, the front cover carries in gilt tooling, below the city’s coat of arms, the notice “Glasgow Improvements Act 1866. Photographs of Streets, Closes &c. Taken 1868-71.” See A.L. Fisher’s three-part catalogue of The Old Closes and Streets in Scottish Photography Bulletin, Part I (Spring 1987), 4-8 (p. 5).

83. The passage quoted concerning the second album was put together from the Glasgow Town Council minutes for 15 July 1877 and cited by Fisher, p. 6, and by Anita Ventura Mozley in her Introduction to the 1977 Dover Publications edition of The Old Closes and Streets (Thomas Annan: Photographs of the Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow 1868/1877, with a Supplement of 15 Related Views [New York: Dover Publications, 1977]), p. v. For the numbers of sets produced, William Buchanan proposed a figure of “probably four” in 1871 and sixty in 1878 in his entry on Annan in John Hannavy’s Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Photography, vol. 1, p. 45. I have accepted the numbers given by A.L. Fisher in Scottish Photography Bulletin (Spring 1987), 4-8 and 17-27 (pp. 6-7). According to Fisher, the extant copies of the 1871 album are held by the Mitchell Library, the library of the University of Glasgow, the library of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. However, Princeton University’s album of The Old Closes and Streets, which belonged at one time to the library of the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow, is also that of 1871. It may, in sum, be even harder than the texts of Buchanan or Fisher freely acknowledge to determine exactly how many albums were made in 1871, or even in 1878. Single albumen prints from 1871 and carbon prints from 1878, for instance, of which a fair number are still extant, might have been collected and bound together by individuals or institutions. The figure of sixty copies for the 1878 album may well be on the low side, according to Sonny Maley of Glasgow University Library. (My thanks to Mr. Maley for sharing the results of his research with me in an e-mail of July 8, 2014.) In her Introduction to the 1977 Dover Publications edition (p. v and endnote 9 on p. xiii), Anita Ventura Mozley gives a figure of 100 copies for the 1878 album, citing information provided by Jerold C. Maddox, the Curator of Photography at the Library of Congress. According to Maddox, referring in turn to an article entitled “Notes from the North,” in the British Journal of Photography for 19 April 1878, John Nicol, “who figures in the Trustees’ requests to have prints of Annan’s photographs made, ‘had the pleasure of publishing a few notes of a late visit to the carbon printing establishment of Mr. Annan, of Glasgow, recently erected at Lenzie.’ Annan showed Mr. Nicol [. . .] ‘3,000 prints from thirty negatives of the old closes and other interesting portions of Glasgow now removed by the Improvement Trust to make way for more modern erections.’” In contrast, in an illustrated catalogue of the prints from the 1878 album published by Lunn Gallery/Graphics International (Washington, D.C. [1976? 1980?]), Henry Lunn Jr. estimated that there were at most 25 to 40 sets of the 1878 album (misdescribed as the “1877” album). This low figure may, however, reflect the gallery’s commercial interest in the rarity of the sets, since it was selling off single prints from a set that had come into its possession.

84. There is disagreement among the scholars even on the number of copies of the 1900 edition. The figures of 100 and 150 are those given by William Buchanan in John Hannavy’s Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, vol. 1, p. 46. Other scholars give a figure of 100 copies each for both the Annan and the MacLehose publications. (David Bate, “Illuminating Annan,” Portfolio Magazine, 3 [Spring/Summer, 1989], p. 19; Anita Ventura Mozley, Introduction to the 1977 Dover Publications edition, p. vi; Margaret Harker, “From Mansion to Close: Thomas Annan, Master Photographer,” p. 94)

85. On these characteristics, see Robert Evans, “History in Albumen, Carbon, and Photogravure: Thomas Annan’s Old Glasgow,” in Nineteenth-Century Photographs and Architecture, ed. Micheline Nilson (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 59-74.

86. See, for example, Ian Spring, Phantom Village: The Myth of the New Glasgow (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1990), p. 16; Rachel Stuhlman, “‘Let Glasgow Flourish’: Thomas Annan and the Glasgow Corporation Waterworks,” p. 50. A similar appreciation of blur is expressed by Graham Bush in his edition of the photographs of old and threatened sites in London by Henry Dixon and the brothers Alfred and John Bool: “The photographs often contain activity. Figures stare at the camera, moving perhaps an arm to leave a smear on the plate. Some have obviously been told to stand still; others go about their business unconscious of the camera. Sometimes carts stay long enough to register on the plate, and sometimes they pass leaving tracks in the air. Fast emulsions would have lost these qualities, which for me are important. Photographers of that time, however, went to great lengths to keep their subjects still and exposures as short as possible.” (Old London, photographed by Henry Dixon and Alfred & John Bool for the Society for Photographing Relics of Old London [London: Academy Editions/New York St Martin’s Press, 1975], p. 10)

87. Spring, Phantom Village, p. 31. Cf. Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977), p. 106: “One of the central characteristics of photography is that process by which original uses are modified, eventually supplanted by other uses—most notably by the discourse of art into which any photograph can be absorbed.”

88. E.g. Julie Lawson, “The Problem of Poverty and the Picturesque,” p. 40. Responding to interpretations of Annan’s work “as polemical and reformatory in purpose,” Lawson argues that “the historical facts of the matter inform us that the photographs were commissioned after the decision had been made to clear the slums: they were not part of the long and hard-won battle to prick the social conscience and bring about social amelioration.” In a somewhat similar vein, Mozley (Introduction to the Dover Publications Edition of 1977, p. vii) states that “Annan was not a social reformer or investigator with a camera. He was no John Thomson, whose texts to Street Life in London (1877-1878) were vivified with quotations from nomads, cabmen, boardmen and flood victims. [. . .] His work is more like that of A. & J. Boole and Henry Dixon, who took photographs for the Society for Photographing Relics of Old London in the 1870’s and 1880s.” So too Wolfgang Kemp, “Images of Decay: Photography in the Picturesque Tradition,” October, 54 (Autumn, 1990), 102-33 (p. 124): “It is certain that Annan did not take these photographs to facilitate or to justify the large-scale demolition of the old city center by illustrating its inhuman conditions. [. . . ] He leaves more of the life that is crammed in these abysses to the spectator’s imagination than he shows of it.” (Original German text of this essay, 1978) For Eve Blau, on the other hand, “Annan did not shy away from showing the filth and degradation of the life lived within [these places], thereby providing implicit justification for tearing them down” (Eve Blau, “Patterns of Fact: Photography and the Transformation of the Early Industrial City,” in Eve Blau and Edward Kaufman, eds., Architecture and its Image [Montreal: Centre Canadien d’Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1989], pp. 36-57 [p. 48]). Likewise, the English Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm used two of Annan’s photographs from The Old Closes and Streets to illustrate his edition of Engels’ Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1969).

89. See notably Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock, “Sentiment, Compassion, Straight Record: The Mid-Victorians,” The Massachusetts Review, 19 (Winter 1978), special issue devoted to photography, 717-28: “Others, like Thomas Annan, attempted to rouse the public to the terrible conditions in Glasgow’s slums by presenting stark and truthful images of the downtrodden poor in the dark tenement canyons”; (p. 717) “Thomas Annan used his camera as a social weapon…” (p. 723). Similarly for Wilfried Wiegand, Frühzeit der Photographie 1826-1890), Annan’s “Aufnahmen aus den Slums von Glasgow (1866-1977) sind der erste Höhepunkt sozialkritischer Photographie” (p. 217). In a selection of Annan’s photographs of Glasgow, James McCarroll compares Annan to Jacob Riis in his depiction of slum life: “His views of the closes are genuinely moving and full of pathos. They reveal the horrific living conditions endured by tens of thousands of Glaswegians in the midst of one of the world’s most economically vibrant cities.” (Glasgow Victoriana: Classic Photographs by Thomas Annan [Ayr: Fort Publishing Ltd., 1999], pp. 6-7) Such judgments are probably inevitable in view of the fact that “perhaps as a means of differentiating it from ‘photojournalism,’ to which it is closely related, modern definitions of documentary photography have focused less on its role in recording reality than on its ability to demonstrate the need for change.” (Constance B. Schultz, “Documentary Photography,” in Oxford Companion to the Photograph, ed. Robin Lenman and Angela Nicholson [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005], pp. 173-79),

90. Thus, according to Peter Baron Hales, reviewing possible anticipations of Jacob Riis’s “social documentary” photographs in his How the Other Half Lives, “the purpose of [The Old Closes and Streets] might only loosely be considered sociological” (Silver Cities: The Photography of American Urbanization 1839-1939 [Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005], p. 297). See also Anita Mozley, “Thomas Annan of Glasgow,” Image, 20, no. 2 (June 1977), 1-12 (p. 1). Riis was in any case likely to have been more aware of engravings made from photographs of slum tenements by the American photographer Edward Anthony than of Annan’s work. These engravings were published in a Report of the Council of Hygiene and Public Health of the Citizens’ Association of New York (New York: D. Appleton, 1865) several years before Annan began photographing the old closes and streets of Glasgow.

91. Photographs of Glasgow (Glasgow: Duthie, 1868), sections on “Trongate and Cross” and “The Parks: in connection with view of West-End Park.”(Pages unnumbered)

92. On the “Missions héliographiques” and on Marville, see André Gunthert, “L’Institution du photographique: Le roman de la Société héliographique” (as in endnote 5 above); Eugenia Janis, “Demolition picturesque: Photographs of Paris in 1852 and 1858 by Henri Le Secq,” in Perspectives on Photography: Essays in Honor of Beaumont Newhall, ed. P. Walch and T.F. Barnes (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1986), pp. 33-66; Marie de Thézy, en collaboration avec Roxane Dubuisson, “Le Photographe des rues de Paris,” in their Marville Paris (Paris: Éditions Hazan, 1994), pp. 28-36; and Patrice de Moncan, Charles Marville: Paris photographié au temps d’Haussmann (Paris: Éditions du Mécène, 2009). According to De Thézy, Marville’s commission dated from 1865 and resulted within three years in an album of 425 images. A similar concern to inventory and record buildings and monuments, especially those under threat of decay or destruction, inspired the celebrated 24-volume Voyages pittoresques et romantiques dans l’ancienne France (1828-78) by Baron Taylor and the poet Charles Nodier. On Annan and Riis, see Robert Evans, “History in Albumen, Carbon, and Photogravure: Thomas Annan’s Old Glasgow,” pp. 61-62. Ian Spring also makes the point that “Annan’s work cannot be compared to other photographic projects directly involved in the legal process of instigating slum clearance—for example, the contemporary photographs of the Quarry Hill area of Leeds.” (Phantom Village, p. 14) It does, however, seem somewhat comparable with that of fellow-Scot Archibald Burns, who was given a similar commission to Annan’s by the Edinburgh Improvement Trust in 1871 and took 26 photographs of buildings in the old closes between the University and Cowgate shortly before they were demolished. It is entirely possible, of course, that other photographers learned from Annan’s work to produce images with a reformist intent. Some of the photographs of Little Collingwood Street in Bethnal Green (ca.1900) by John Galt, a missionary with the London City Mission, bear a strong resemblance to Annan’s The Old Closes and Streets in the 1900 photogravure edition created by James Craig Annan. (See, for instance,

93. Irene Maver, Glasgow, pp. v, 172-74. Cf. Carol Foreman, Lost Glasgow: “For the loss of so many of its historic buildings, Glasgow has only itself to blame. It has never been sentimental about its old buildings. It has been a point of civic pride to destroy and build better, and if old buildings got in the way of any new plan, they were swept away, supposedly in the name of progress. [. . .] Should we commend or condemn the Victorians for their redevelopment of the city? Probably a bit of both as they did make the town a more pleasant and much healthier place to live, and if, by removing the slums, which were the worst in the country, the picturesque was sacrificed, the means justified the end.” (pp. vii and ix)

94. On Photography, p. 76. Sontag might have added that those who commissioned photographic records of what they themselves were destroying also used photography to record what they took pride in building. Hence Glasgow Corporation’s commissioning Annan to record the construction of the Loch Katrine waterworks; the Canadian Grand Trunk Railway’s commissioning William Notman to make a photographic record of the building of the Victoria Bridge over the St. Lawrence; or James Mayer de Rothschild’s commissioning Édouard Baldus, around the same time, to record the construction of the railway from Boulogne to Paris, Lyon and the Mediterranean. In this respect, photography was taking over from prints and painting; Louis XIV had had his “battle painter” Adam Frans van der Meulen record a scene from the construction of Versailles in 1668, and Annan’s friend D. O. Hill had made paintings of the Glasgow and Garnkirk railway in 1830-31, published in lithographic form as Views of the Opening of the Glasgow and Garnkirk Railway (Edinburgh: Alex Hill, 1832). The documentary photograph offered an age of revolutionary change, acutely aware of the transience of everything, a valued means of recording what was inevitably subject to the effects of time.

95. “The insistent recurrence of the word ‘Old’ in the titles of [Annan’s] publications” was noted by Ray McKenzie in his article “Thomas Annan and the Scottish Landscape: Among the Gray Edifices,” p. 47. Annan himself, as a young man working on the Fife Herald, wrote in February 1848 of his desire, with the coming of drier weather, to “get out to rove among the gray edifices of bygone years.” (Cit. Sara Stevenson Thomas Annan 1829-1887, p. 4). In his essay “The Urban Landscape between Progress and Decay” (Studies in Photography [1998], 5-9) James Lawson argues that photography is by its very nature closely associated with time and change: “Photography [. . .] simultaneously affirms objective fact and draws attention to the contingent nature of that fact. It is obsessed by time. In its ability to record, it preserves, if not the substance of the thing, the image of a moment’s existence. Thus, by its very nature, it forces acknowledgement that time changes things [. . .] Change being the condition of photography and the sense of the photographic image being something wrenched from the object and, with the passing of time, moving further and further from it, the recording of objects that already announced the erosive power of time was an obvious role for photography. The poetic photographer would seek out objects upon which time had done its work.” (p. 7)

96. Wolfgang Kemp, “Images of Decay,” pp. 104-05, 107. The late eighteenth-century quotation is from Sir Uvedale Price, Essay on the Picturesque (1794). Frank Sutcliffe, the still widely-admired photographer of the fishing town of Whitby and its inhabitants in the last decades of the nineteenth century, made the point forcefully in 1890: “Is it because we have been so in the habit of going only for the labelled objects that our eyes are not sufficiently alert and our senses properly tuned to respond to the greater charms of the rarer beauties?” (Cit. ibid., p. 111) The predilection of photography, from the outset, for the hidden, “the unofficial reality behind the façade of bourgeois life,” for “uncovering a hidden truth, conserving a vanishing past,” and for “discovering beauty in the humble, the inane, the decrepit” and in what was often seen as ugly, is, of course, a central theme of Susan Sontag’s now classic On Photography (1973); see especially, pp. 15-16, 55-56, 76, 78-79, 89-90, 102. Sontag quotes with approval a remark by Princeton photographer Emmet Gowin: “Photography is a tool for dealing with things everybody knows about but isn’t attending to. My photographs are intended to present something you don’t see.” (p. 200)

97. Neil Matheson, “Demand: Allegories of the Real and the Return of History,” in The State of the Real: Aesthetics in the Digital Age, ed. Damian Sutton, Susan Brind, Ray McKenzie (London: I.B. Taurus, 2007), p. 38. Thus, for example, the Edinburgh newspaper The Scotsman in the mid-nineteenth century: “The artist cannot fail to tell; he can neither flatter nor detract from the appearance of the object which is presented to him; he is a secondary agent.” (Cit. Hannavy, The Victorian Professional Photographer, p. 8)

98. As Ray McKenzie points out, the “Picturesque” fulfilled a function similar to that played by the more sophisticated, late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century concept of Pictorialism, represented by the work of the American photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen and, in Scotland, by Thomas Annan’s own son James Craig Annan. It promoted “a particular understanding of how a picture can be made to evoke meanings beyond the mere ‘facsimile’ of an object’s appearance” and, as A.J. Anderson put it in his The Artistic Side of Photography in Theory and Practice (London, 1910), can serve as “the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual meaning.” See McKenzie, “Introduction: Pictorialism and its Malcontents,” Photography 1900: The Edinburgh Symposium (Proceedings of the Conference of the European Society for the History of Photography), ed. by Julie Lawson, Ray McKenzie, A.D. Morrison-Low (Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland/National Galleries of Scotland, 1992), pp. 13-17 (p. 14). See likewise Shelley Rice’s comment on the Pictorialists: “For these artists, the click of the shutter opened the door to eternity. The photographic image, rightly perceived, elevated reality to the level of symbol.” (“When Objects Dream,” p. 5)

99. William Henry Fox Talbot, The Pencil of Nature (London: Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1844), The text relates directly to Plate VI, “The Open Door.” On the view of Talbot’s calotype as facilitating the practice of photography as an art (in contrast to the mechanical accuracy of the daguerreotype), see Sara Stevenson, The Personal Art of David Octavius Hill (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), pp. 31-40. Stevenson quotes (p. 36) a remark by the history painter Benjamin Robert Haydon: “I am convinced that the Calotype is the greatest thing for Art since the Elgin Marbles.”

100. Quoted by Alfred H. Wall in British Journal of Photography, 16 February 1863. Sutton’s concern to promote photography as a creative art is demonstrated in his many practical manuals as well as in the Introduction he wrote for Louis-Désiré Blanquet-Evrard, Intervention of Art in Photography (London: Sampson Low, Son & Co., 1864), translated from French into English under Sutton’s direction. When working with Blanquet-Evrard in Lille, Sutton explained, he came to admire “not only his great taste in matters relating to art, but his strenuous efforts to introduce, by legitimate means, artistic effects into the mechanical work of the camera and printing frame.” (p. 3) Wall shared Sutton’s understanding of photography: “No two trees or rocks are alike; light and shade change with every hour of the day, and with every such change the scene becomes a new one. [. . .] The finest and most beautifully varied scenery in the world may make and does commonly make the most uninteresting photographs, simply because the photographer [. . .] has neither chosen his point of view, his light and shade, nor his atmospheric effect with a proper care.” (“On taking Picturesque Photographs” [1867], cit. in Kemp, “Images of Decay,” pp. 109-10) Among many similar defenses of photography as an art and not simply a technique, see R.J. Chute, “Portrait Photography,” The Photographic World, 24 (December 1872), p. 355: “Photographic chemistry, with all its attendant processes and manipulations, may be easily learned; [. . .] but in reference to art there is something indefinable that cannot be told or written, it must be felt. As with music, there must be some inherent talent, some natural taste for it.”

101. “Upon photography in an artistic view and its relation to the arts” (a talk given at the Royal Photographic Society, 3 February 1853), Photographic Journal (3 March 1853), quoted in Helmut Gernsheim, Creative Photography: Aesthetic Trends 1839-1960 (New York: Dover, 1991 [orig. London, 1962], p. 74). See also Newton’s complete text, reproduced in Bill Jay and Dana Allen, eds., Critics 1840-1880 (Phoenix (?): Arizona Board of Regents, 1985), 49-52 (p. 50). In the same vein, Lady Elizabeth Eastlake in London Quarterly Review (March, 1857)—see endnote 37.

102. Cited in Kemp, “Images of Decay,” p. 111. On the allegedly still influential (and in the writer’s view deleterious) ambition of photography to be regarded in the same light as painting, see Paul Strand, “The Art Motive in Photography,” The British Journal of Photography, 70 (1923), 612-15. According to Strand, a “generally erroneous notion of artist [namely, that ‘everybody who slings a little paint is an artist’] has been and is the chief worry of photographers and their undoing. They too would like to be accepted in polite society as artists, as anyone who paints is accepted, and so they try to turn photography into something which it is not: they introduce a paint feeling. In fact, I know of very few photographers whose work is not evidence that at bottom they would prefer to paint if they knew how.” (Photographers on Photography, ed. Nathan Lyons, pp. 144-54 [p. 145])

103. F. Wey, “De l’influence de l’héliographie sur les beaux-arts,” La Lumière, 1 (9 February 1851), p. 3, cited in Gunthert, “L’institution du photographique,” p. 20. La Lumière, the organ of the Société héliographique, was the first journal devoted to photography in Europe. Francis Wey’s position was, in fact, complex; see the outstanding article by Margaret Denton, “Francis Wey and the Discourse of Photography as Art in France in the Early 1850s,” Art History, 25 (November 2002), 622-48. Jules Champfleury, albeit one of the founding members of the Société héliographique (1851), still insisted on the “mechanical” character of photography: “Ten daguerreotypeurs meet up in the countryside and subject the scenery to the action of light. Beside them, ten students of landscape painting set to copying the same site. Once the chemical operation is complete, the ten plates are compared: they depict exactly the same landscape, without variation. On the other hand, after two or three hours at work the ten pupils [. . .] lay their sketches out next to each other. There is not a single similar one among them.” (Cit. in Dominique de Font-Réaulx, Painting and Photography 1839-1914 [Paris: Flammarion, 2012], p. 122) In our own time Susan Sontag has insisted that a distinctive individual style is less characteristic of photographers than of painters inasmuch as photography remains more bound to an impersonal representation of its subject matter: “A photographer is not like a painter, the role of the photographer being recessive in much of serious picture-taking and virtually irrelevant in all the ordinary uses. So far as we care about the subject photographed, we expect the photographer to be an extremely discreet presence. [. . .] In the vast majority of photographs which get taken—for scientific and industrial purposes, by the press, by the military and the police, by families—any trace of the personal vision of whoever is behind the camera interferes with the primary demand on the photograph that it record, diagnose, inform. [. . .] It requires a formal conceit (like Todd Walker’s solarized photographs [. . .]) or a thematic obsession (like Eakins with the male nude [. . .]) to make work easily recognizable. For photographers who don’t so limit themselves, their body of work does not have the same integrity as does comparably varied work in other art forms.” (On Photography, pp. 133-34) On continuing debate about the status of photography, see also in Pierre Bourdieu, ed., Photography. A Middle-brow Art (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990; orig. French, Un Art moyen, 1965) the articles by Pierre Bourdieu (pp. 13-72), Robert Castel and Dominique Schnapper (pp. 103-128), Jean-Claude Chamberdon (pp. 129-49) and Luc Boltanski and Jean-Claude Chamberdon (pp. 150-173).

104. In 1896 James Craig Annan was elected to the Brotherhood of the Linked Ring, the European equivalent of the American Photo-Secession. Both groups espoused the view of photography as art. In 1899 Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin (no. 30, pp. 345-48) reported in detail on a lecture given by J.C. Annan to the Leeds Camera Club in 1899 on “Painters Who Have Influenced Me.” A lecture on “Photography as a Means of Artistic Expression,” given on 4 May 1910 to the Edinburgh Photographic Society, was published in December of the same year in Alfred Stieglitz’s influential Photo-Secession journal Camera Work (no. 32, pp. 21-24), and in 1914 an entire number of the journal was devoted to J.C. Annan and his work. See William Buchanan, James Craig Annan: Selected Texts and Bibliography (New York: G.K. Hall, 1993).

105. For a reproduction of Annan’s sketch, see Roddy Simpson, The Photography of Victorian Scotland, p. 151. Simpson observes that a note below the sketch “indicates Annan’s concern about perspective and distance and the problem of relating foreground to middle and background, confirming his awareness of compositional rules in painting.” Simpson devotes a section of his book (pp. 157-85) to the debate provoked in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by photography’s claim to be art.

106. Among those impressed by the absence of images of extreme squalor, one could point to the following: David Bate, “Illuminating Annan,” Portfolio Magazine, 3 (Spring/Summer, 1989), p. 19: “None of Annan’s photographs actually represent the kind of overcrowding and ‘squalor’ described by official written accounts”; Kemp, “Images of Decay,” p. 124: “Annan’s photographs do not give the impression of a terribly overpopulated slum; instead we are given the feeling that the people are there to animate the scenery”; Julie Lawson, “The Problem of Poverty and the Picturesque,” p. 45: “. . . his deliberate exclusion of some of the more shocking aspects of the place is important”; Ian Spring, “Midnight Scenes and Social Photographs,” in Debra N. Mancoff and D.J. Trela, eds., Victorian Urban Settings: Essays on the Nineteenth-Century City and its Contexts (New York and London: Garland, 1996), pp. 195-213 (pp. 201-02): “What we see is an illuminating but highly constructed view of these people. . .They appear perhaps disinterested, posed in a fashion, and docile. . . .The exact antithesis of Cruikshank’s engraving: no vice, no drunkenness, no crime, merely an orderly people, husbands, wives and children, all preoccupied with maintaining a degree of cleanliness.” See also Evans, “History in Albumen, Carbon, and Photogravure,” p. 64.

107. James Lawson, “The Urban Landscape between Progress and Decay,” p. 5. “Signs of sickness and vice—to elicit the compassion and indignation of the social historian—are disappointingly absent,” according to Lawson, from the street scenes of both Annan and his Edinburgh contemporary, Archibald Burns.

108. Mozley, Introduction, p. xi.

109. In the text accompanying Annan’s photograph of George Square (the pages are unnumbered), Forbes refers to “the very distinct and otherwise excellent view presented by our artist”; in the text accompanying the photograph of the Royal Exchange, to “the beautiful view of the Exchange, here presented by our artist”; and in the text accompanying three photographs of the Cathedral, to “the third of these views presented by our artist.”

110. See the final quotation at under “Thomas Annan” On Annan’s talk, see The master of this useful blog, contacted by e-mail, was unfortunately unable to locate a surviving text of Annan’s talk.

111. Referring to post-World War I “social document” photography in Weimar Germany, Soviet Russia and Depression-era America, Jens Jäger drew attention to the difficulty of determining “from the images themselves whether the perspective of the photographers was conservative or socialist, or whether ultimately aesthetic considerations were decisive.” (Photographie: Bilder der Neuzeit [Tübingen: Edition diskord, 2000], p. 111) A similar difficulty attends many earlier photographs. James Lawson makes the interesting argument that the seemingly contradictory “social-historical” and “art-critical” approaches to photography, especially documentary photography, reflect two essential aspects of the medium: its origin and its development. “The creation of records, substitutions and reproductions has been an important human ambition, and industry has historically seen the invention of a great variety of utilitarian machines and processes. [. . .] Stamping, casting, and die-making processes allowed for the imitation and reproduction of objects on an industrial scale. However, insofar as the mechanical process was recognized in the product, it was denied artistic credentials, and very many manufacturing processes never became artistic means. Photography, though, was different. [. . .] Despite the possibility of the photograph existing in multiple copies, [photography is] not a process of mechanical reproduction in the sense in which stamping, casting and die-making are. [. . .] Perhaps the most salient difference is that it has no contact with the thing to be copied. [. . .] The notion of record remains embedded deep within the art of photography, but equally ineluctable is remoteness of object from process. The space separating the photograph from its object is occupied by factors making the object relative to conditions over which the process has no control. So, viewpoint limits the object to an aspect consisting in a singular configuration of planes, conditions of light make the object ontologically inconstant, and scale is inexplicit in relation to size.” (“The Urban Landscape between Progress and Decay,” pp. 6-7)

112. Sara Stevenson, Thomas Annan 1829-1887, p. 17.

113. Ray McKenzie, “Landscape in Scotland: Photography and the Poetics of Place,” in Light from the Dark Room: A Celebration of Scottish Photography. A Scottish-Canadian Collaboration, ed. Sara Stevenson (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1995), p. 76. See also Ian Spring. “Midnight Scenes and Social Photographs,” pp. 207-309, and Tom Normand, Scottish Photography: A History (Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2007), p. 91.

114. Margaret Harker, “From Mansion to Close,” p. 91. For a similar judgment see Caroline Arscott, “The Representation of the City in the Visual Arts,” in The Cambridge Urban History of Britain, vol. 3, ed. Martin Daunton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 811-832. “Thomas Annan’s photographs of Glasgow (1868-71) are haunting images of disease-ridden crumbling alleyways destined for demolition. The conundrum is the way the stained, seeping, closely spaced walls, signifiers of overcrowding, foul air, sewage and disease, are rendered in visually arresting form. The many similar closes generate varied compositions which balance blocks and patches of light and dark, the reflective and matt, and, above all, differentiate the textures of the stonework that dominates the environment.” (p. 823)

115. E-mail of May 23, 2014. As it happens, there is sometimes a tension in Chimacoff’s own photographic work that is strikingly similar to Annan’s. An exhibition of his photographs at the Princeton Public Library in October 2014 highlighted the unsightliness and impracticality of the tangles of overhead wires and cables found in most American towns and suburbs. (Their vulnerability to extreme weather conditions results in frequent loss of power to thousands of homes.) Many of the photographs exhibited, however, were formally quite beautiful.

116. See especially Julie Lawson, “The Problem of Poverty and the Picturesque,” pp. 42-43, on Annan’s “quiet, contemplative photographs.”

117. It would be rash to assert that such intentions played absolutely no role. Annan apparently shared the belief of many reform-minded Christians that education would help resolve the problem of poverty and had considered opening a reading room for the poor (Stevenson, Thomas Annan (1829-1887), p. 15). See also Julie Lawson, “The Problem of Poverty and the Picturesque”: “Annan is known to have been a religious man, involved in the Church’s effort to improve the lot of the inhabitants through voluntary education schemes. A man of liberal and Christian commitment, he would have welcomed the reforms and approved the legislation of the Civic Improvement Trust for whom he carried out the commission.” (p. 43) See likewise Normand, Scottish Photography: A History: “Annan was a religious man, an advocate of abstention from alcohol, and something of a socially conscious reformer. His drive to reform was fundamentally shaped by his religious commitment and so the desires of Glasgow’s Improvement Trust—sanitary housing, a disease-free environment, a policed inner city, a morally constructed community—were allied to Annan’s views. In other words, Annan’s ‘documentary’ photographs were ‘political’ only in the qualified sense that they proposed a paternalistic form of social engineering.” (p. 97) Annan may well have shared the views of Rev. A.G. Forbes, who contributed the text to Photographs of Glasgow and who noted in his Introduction that the city had worked hard to remedy frequent fires and flooding and to deal with “riots among the people in seasons of famine or in circumstances of political discontent.” He conceded that there is “poverty and crime,” and attributed these to “a large amount of ignorance.” Nevertheless, “there is also a pleasing extent of intelligence, and integrity, and charity.” Ultimately, Forbes had confidence in the future of the city with its ever expanding trade and industry. Change is not to be feared. It is always “for the better [. . .] when it is the result of freedom and enlightened personal independence.” The cure for poverty and crime lies in educating the poor and making them self-reliant.

118. Thomas Prasch, “Photography and the Image of the London Poor,” in Victorian Urban Settings: Essays on the Nineteenth-Century City and its Contexts, pp. 179-94 (pp. 180-84). See also, on Beard and Thomson, Peter Baron Hales, Silver Cities, p. 297.

119. On this view of the poor and the working class as a “race apart,” see George W. Stocking, Victorian Anthropology (New York: The Free Press, 1987), pp. 212-15. Stocking summarizes Engels’ description of the working class (not without some exaggeration) as a “‘race apart’—physically degenerate, robbed of all humanity, reduced morally and intellectually to near bestial condition, not only by economic exploitation, but by competition and association with the coarse, volatile, dissolute, drunken, impoverished Irish who slept with their pigs in the stinking slums of Manchester.” (p. 213) Prasch quotes Mayhew’s view of society as divided into “two distinct and broadly marked races, viz. the wanderers and the settlers—the vagabond and the citizen—the nomadic and the civilized tribes.” (“Photography and the Image of the London Poor,” p. 179)

120. See especially “28 Saltmarket,” “46 Saltmarket,” “37 High Street,” “65 High Street,” “118 High Street,” “29 Gallowgate.”

121. Sontag, On Photography, pp. 7, 14. A notable example of such symbolic appropriation might well be the celebrated twenty-volume masterpiece of the ethnologist and photographer Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian (1907-1930). Financed in part by J.P. Morgan, this textual account of the native Americans, containing 1,500 small plates and 722 large gravures, “was printed on hand-made paper, [. . .] bound with irregularly grained Morocco leather, and published in a limited edition of 500 sets that sold for $5,000 each.” As Shelley Rice observes, “The subjects of Curtis’s photographs might be the dispossessed of American society but the intended audience certainly was not. [. . .] Consumers of such luxury items were also symbolically supporting a romantic, and equally fictitious, vision of their own past: their ‘pure’ civilization unravaged by the vulgar, mechanized masses.” (Shelley Rice, “When Objects Dream,” p. 4)

122. Sontag, On Photography, pp. 11-12, 20-21. See the summary of Sontag’s position by Alexander Hutchison in Porfolio Magazine, 3 (Spring/Summer 1989): “For Sontag the person behind the camera is too often—maybe always—a ‘voyeuristic stroller,’ who is best characterized by words like ‘acquisitive,’ ‘violating,’ ‘predatory’.” (pp. 4, 10, 99) A recent incident, reported in the London Daily Mail of a woman being beaten to death by two other women, while bystanders, instead of going to her assistance, used their cell phones to videotape the scene, provides disturbing confirmation of Sontag’s thesis. See

123. Sontag, On Photography, p. 107. Cf. pp. 101-02: “The view of [Alfred] Stieglitz, [Paul] Strand and [Edward] Weston—that photographs should be, first of all, beautiful (that is, beautifully composed)—seems thin now, too obtuse to the truth of disorder. [. . .] Weston’s images, however admirable, however beautiful, have become less interesting to many people, while those taken by the mid-nineteenth-century English and French primitive photographer [. . .] enthrall more than ever. [. . .] As these formalist ideals of beauty seem, in retrospect, linked to a certain historical mood, optimism about the modern age (the new vision, the new era), so the decline of the standards of photographic purity represented by Weston [. . .] has accompanied the moral letdown experienced in recent decades. In the present historical mood of disenchantment one can make less and less sense of the formalist’s notion of timeless beauty. Darker, time-bound models of beauty have become prominent, inspiring a revaluation of the photography of the past; and, in an apparent revulsion against the Beautiful, recent generations of photographers prefer to show disorder.”

124. Ibid., p. 110.

125. Zahid R. Chaudhary, After-Image of Empire: Photography in Nineteenth-Century India (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), pp. 157-71. See also the entry on Hooper by Kathleen Howe in John Hannavy, ed., Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, vol. 1, pp. 713-14.

126. The Victorians themselves, Annan’s contemporaries, appear to have anticipated to some extent the contemporary debate about documentary photographs that depict famine, poverty, war and other forms of human misery. Hooper’s devastating photographs of the Madras famine victims provoked controversy at the time: “The Victorians debated whether taking these pictures was an exploitation of people’s suffering and whether detachment created by cameras is a craven excuse for apathy. Others maintained that the photographs raised awareness; a contemporary paper reported: ‘People who still delude themselves with the idea that the famine, if it has any existence at all, has been greatly exaggerated, could see [the photos], and they would lay aside that notion for good … Their knowledge will enable them to testify that these photographs are not representations of exceptional cases of suffering, but are typical of the actual conditions of immense numbers of people in the Madras Presidency.’ But soon, news came out that after taking such photos, Hooper would send the famine victims back to the countryside without giving them food, treatment or help. For this astonishing cruelty Hooper was roundly skewered in the British press.” (Alex Selwyn-Holmes at See also Chaudhary, After-Image of Empire, loc. cit.

127. My thanks to my colleague Suzanne Nash for directing me to Apollinaire’s story. The brilliant and powerful Tavernier film, entitled Death Watch in its original English-speaking version, is an early denunciation of the TV “reality” show.

128. Martha Rosler, “In, Around, and Afterthoughts (on documentary photography),” in Martha Rosler, Works (Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1981, repr. 2000). Cf. a similar comment on the iconography of famine in Africa, which belatedly purports to stir the conscience of viewers and has turned the popular image of the continent into one of “a desperate, poor, passive victim”: “We can easily lament the limitations of famine iconography, especially the way it homogenises, anthropomorphises, infantilises and impoverishes. But above all else we have to understand it is a visual sign of failure. The recourse to the stereotypes of famine is driven by the complex political circumstances photography has historically been unable to capture. This means that when we see the images of distressed people, feeding clinics and starving babies, we are seeing the end result of a collective inability to picture causes and context.” ( See also Walter Benjamin, “Little History of Photography”: “The creative in photography is its capitulation to fashion. The world is beautiful—that is its watchword. In it is unmasked the posture of a photography that can endow any soupcan with cosmic significance but cannot grasp a single one of the human connections in which it exists [. . .]. As Brecht says: ‘[…] a photograph of the Krupp works or the AEG tells us next to nothing about these institutions.” (Selected Writings, ed. by Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland and Gary Smith, vol. 2, 1927-1934 [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999], p. 526)

129. John Tagg, The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories (Basingstoke: Macmillan Education, 1988), pp. 92, 118-19, 150-51. In a similar vein, Victor Burgin, ed., Thinking Photography (London: Macmillan, 1982). According to David Levi Strauss (“The Documentary Debate: Aesthetic or Anesthetic,” in Between the Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics, ed. D. Levi Strauss [New York: Aperture, 2003], pp. 3-11), Rosler’s and Tagg’s critiques, “focussing on the aestheticization of the documentary image [. . .] were accepted and absorbed into mainstream writing on photography.” (p. 5) He quotes from an article severely critical of the great Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado in The New Yorker (9 September 1991): “Salgado is too busy with the compositional aspect of his pictures and with finding the ‘grace’ and ‘beauty’ in the twisted forms of his anguished subjects. And this beautification of tragedy results in pictures that ultimately reinforce our passivity toward the experience they reveal. [. . .] Beauty is a call to admiration, not to action.” Similarly, in the catalogue of a 1990 exhibition of Salgado’s work at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano acknowledged that “as an article of consumption poverty [. . .] is a commodity that fetches a high price on the luxury market” at the present time, even while arguing that Salgado’s work transcends this exploitation of misery: “From their mighty silence these images, these portraits, question the hypocritical frontiers that safeguard the bourgeois order and protect its right to power and inheritance.” (Both passages cited on pp. 5-7)

130. Annan’s destiny was by no means unique. As noted, the work of Hine and Riis also came to be valued more for its formal than for its documentary qualities. It has been argued that the work of the celebrated late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French photographer Eugène Atget was perceived differently by his French contemporaries and by later admirers in the United States. Atget, it is claimed, “was a commercial image-maker” whose “photographs and albums were sold to artists, libraries, and historical societies eager to preserve the past. [. . .] This artist chose to capture the Old Paris, to hold on to the relics of the past overwhelmed by the speeding traffic of the present day: the narrow cobblestone streets, the horse-drawn carts, the poor peddlers hawking their wares.” His images “were produced as documents, recording monuments and sites that were clearly identified by their image-maker; but they were published in the United States, after the photographer’s death, as art objects in a large and beautiful volume, where the images are severed from the captions that ‘fix’ them in historical time and space (the captions are listed in a separate section discreetly hidden at the back of the book).” American Pictorialism, in short, transformed the perception of the original, primarily documentary images. “The Old Paris, like Curtis’s Navajo tribe, drifted into eternity once it reached American shores.” (Shelley Rice, “When Objects Dream,” p. 11) The painter and stained glass artist Brian Clarke expresses regret that photography has “become part of the system that fifty years ago it seriously questioned,” photographers having also come to adopt “galleries and museums” as “in many cases the singular end and goal to which they aspire.” (“Toward a New Constructivism,” in Brian Clarke, ed., Architectural Stained Glass [London: John Murray, 1979], p. 17)

131. On Photography, p. 148.

132. See “The Speech Event and the Functions of Language,” in R. Jakobson, On Language, ed. Linda R. Waugh and Monique Monville-Burston (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990), pp. 69-79. Jakobson’s text was written at a much earlier date, ca.1956.

133. Naomi Rosenblum catches something of this polyvalence in a brief comment on Annan’s The Old Closes and Streets in her World History of Photography (New York: Abbeville Press, 2007): “A project that originated in the desire to make a record of slum buildings slated for demolition in central Glasgow also helped establish the documentary style even though its purpose was nostalgic rather than reformist. [. . .] Because the project was not conceived in a reformist spirit, no statistical information about living conditions or comments by the inhabitants—who appear only incidentally in the images—were included. Nevertheless, Annan’s images might be seen as the earliest visual record of what has come to be called the inner city slum—in this case one that excelled in ‘filth . . .drunkenness . . . evil smell and all that makes city poverty disgusting.’ The vantage points selected by the photographer and the use of light to reveal the slimy and fetid dampness of the place transform scenes that might have been merely picturesque into a document that suggests the reality of life in such an environment. Whatever the initial purpose of the commission and despite their equivocal status as social documentation, many of Annan’s images are surprisingly close in viewpoint to those of Jacob Riis, the first person in America to conceive of camera images as an instrument for social change. Sensitivity to the manner in which light gives form and dimension to inert object also links Annan’s work with that of French photographers Charles Marville and Eugène Atget, and supplies further evidence that the documentary style in itself is not specific to images commissioned for activist programs.” (pp. 358-59)

134. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), p. 4.

135. Ibid., pp. 76-77, 115. Cf. a comment by Annan’s son, James Craig Annan, in a talk printed in Stieglitz’s Camera Work in December 1910. Though he was one of the early adherents of the Pictorial school in photography, Annan expresses opposition to the manipulating of images captured by the camera: “The peculiar quality of a gum print is that at one stage of the process of production the print is in such a soft state, somewhat analogous to a recently painted oil picture, and while it is in this state liberties may be taken with it by rubbing off portions of the semi-fluid picture. [. . .] Interesting as these gum prints may be, I am rather inclined to believe that the most perfect work has been and will be done in pure photography, for the reason that by pure photography one may reproduce objects, with all their contours, tones, and modelling with absolute fidelity.” (“Photography as a Means of Artistic Expression,” in William Buchanan, ed., J. Craig Annan: Selected Texts and Bibliography [see endnote 31 above], pp. 124-25) Similar reservations had been expressed by the poet and critic Sadakich Hartmann, a frequent contributor to Stieglitz’s Camera Work, in “A Plea for Straight Photography” (1904), reproduced in Peter Bunnell, ed., A Photographic Vision: Pictorial Photography, 1889-1923 (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1980), pp. 148-67.

From Thomas Annan of Glasgow: Pioneer of the Documentary Photograph, by Lionel Gossman