Thomas Annan - Old Closes & Streets Photo Trail
9th - 20th September 2021
Various Locations across High Street & Saltmarket
Download Venue List & Map Here
To coincide with the 150th anniversary of Thomas Annan's Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow, photographer Frank McElhinney re-traces Annan's footsteps with a photo trail along the same streets where Annan made the original photographs. Annan's famous street studies of this historic area of Glasgow are shown in the windows of modern businesses along High Street and Saltmarket, taking the viewer on a journey through history.
One hundred and fifty years ago Thomas Annan published a series of thirty-one photographs of the old streets and closes of Glasgow. They are recognised as perhaps the world’s first attempt at what we now call social documentary photography. An 1866 act of parliament had approved the clearance of Glasgow’s overcrowded and epidemic prone slums. With the exception of one photograph made in the Gorbals, all of the rest were made in and around the High Street and Saltmarket. It was once assumed the photographs were commissioned by the City Improvement Trust, but there is no real evidence of this. It is more likely that Annan began the series on his own initiative motivated not just by a speculative commercial imperative but by a desire to highlight the slowly improving condition of Glasgow’s poorest residents. The title of the work suggests architecture was the principal subject but the photographs are teaming with life, full of men, women and children. Annan’s photographs give us a privileged insight into the living conditions of our forebears as no other city, with the possible exception of Paris, has a comparable archive from such an early period in the history of photography. - Frank McElhinney
Frank McElhinney is an artist who works with history to address contemporary issues such as conflict, migration and nationhood. He has a particular interest in the intertwined histories of Scotland and Ireland. Frank studied Fine Art Photography at the Glasgow School of Art and Medieval and Modern History at Glasgow University. His great grand parents migrated to Glasgow from Donegal around the time Annan's photographs were made.
Thomas Annan (1829–1887) was the preeminent photographer of Glasgow in the mid-nineteenth century, a period when the rise in industry and population dramatically altered the landscape of the “second city” of the British Empire. Often working in conjunction with civic projects, Annan produced numerous series that underscore the transformation of the city and its environs, though he remains best known for one series in particular: a group of enigmatic photographs of central Glasgow's narrow alleys, or closes, on the verge of demolition. These haunting images, made between 1868 and 1871 and regarded as precursors of the documentary tradition in photography, represent the notion of progress that underpins much of Annan’s oeuvre.
In 2017 Frank chaired a discussion with Dr. Sara Stevenson on the work of Thomas Annan, which you can listen to below.
All Images: © Thomas Annan, courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Architecture