- 1st December 2011 − 9th September 2012 | Scottish National Portrait Gallery
In 1868 the Fife-born photographer, Thomas Annan, began his series of thirty-one photographs of the closes and wynds of old Glasgow. This area was one of the worst urban slums in Britain and had recently been scheduled for demolition by the City Improvement Trust, a body set up by the Glasgow Improvement Act of 1866 with sweeping powers to clear property. Annan was charged by the Trustees with recording its passing, an antiquarian commission that answered an anxiety about the city’s ferocious pace of change. Facing technical problems due to the dark and dank conditions, he utilised the wet collodion process, the most sensitive technology then available. The series is acknowledged as the first record of slum housing in the history of photography.
Today Annan’s closes still offer a mysterious encounter. Although taken at a time of public concern about the appalling overcrowding of the urban working class, his photographs are not obviously documents of social investigation. Through his dispassionate attention to the visual, Annan initiated what later came to be known as the documentary tradition.