Annan, James Craig

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Annan, James Craig

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Annan, James Craig (1864–1946), photographer, was born on 8 March 1864, the second of the seven children of Thomas Annan (1829/30–1887), photographer, and his wife, Mary Young Craig, at 15 Burnbank Road, Hamilton, Lanarkshire, in Talbot Cottage, named after William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of positive–negative photography. He learned about photography as a boy from his father, and after attending Hamilton Academy until 1877 he joined the family firm. In 1878–9, and probably longer, he studied chemistry at Anderson's College in Glasgow. He travelled to Vienna in 1883 to be taught the process of photogravure by its inventor, Karl Klí?; knowledge of this technique was particularly beneficial for his family's business, which specialized in the reproduction of works of art. He made beautiful photogravures about 1890 from the original calotypes taken just under fifty years earlier by his fellow Scots, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson: this revived an interest in these early masterpieces of photography. About 1891 Annan decided to follow his own interests as a creative photographer. Springing from the city of Glasgow's artistic stramash, he made fine portraits of the illustrator Jessie M. King (c.1906) and the embroiderer Ann Macbeth (c.1908), while his photograph of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1893) has become the icon of that architect and designer. He also photographed Ellen Terry (1898), George Bernard Shaw (1910), and G. K. Chesterton (1912). Annan, ‘an artist by intuition and a photographer by training’ (Touchstone, 34), established a huge reputation by exhibiting, often by invitation, in numerous photographic exhibitions throughout Europe and the United States. His work was widely reproduced, often in such fine journals as Die Kunst in der Photographie of Berlin and Camera Notes and Camera Work of New York. His writing was also in demand: ‘Picture-making with the hand-camera’ in the Amateur Photographer of 1896 was translated for the Bulletin du Photo Club de Paris, and in 1897 extracts appeared in the Bulletin de l'Association Belge de Photographie. In the American Annual of Photography for 1897 this same article by Annan formed the basis of ‘The hand-camera’ by Alfred Stieglitz, with whom Annan was to enjoy a long correspondence. In this influential article Annan presumed that a photographer would ‘have some inherent artistic taste … assiduously cultivated by observing … all departments of the fine arts’. He advised that ‘the general composition [having been] first selected, … the operator should wait until the figures unconsciously group and pose themselves’ (‘Picture-making with the hand-camera’, Amateur Photographer, 23, 1896, 275–7). His recognition of photography's unique ability to seize the instant was diametrically opposed to the approach of Henry Peach Robinson, whose highly regarded Bringing Home the May (1862) was carefully preconceived and painstakingly assembled from nine separate negatives. ‘A connoisseur of transcience’ (Jeffrey, 98), Annan produced fresh, forward-looking photographs: The Beach at Zandvoort (1892), for example, catches fisherfolk in an almost abstract, asymmetrical frieze. Throughout his life he recorded movement—in 1894 the stride of The White Friars, in 1913 the swing of the driver's lengthy stick in Bullock Cart, Burgos—anticipating Henri Cartier-Bresson's ‘decisive moment’ by about half a century before that phrase was defined. Annan's The White House (1909) is now considered to be ‘one of the seminal examples of the instantaneous snapshot wedded by vision to the formal concerns of modern art’ (Green, 22). In photogravure, images are transferred from negatives to plates which can be worked, as would an etcher, before printing, a technique which Annan exploited brilliantly. In The Etching Printer (1902), for instance, he softened the background to emphasize William Strang's intense, practised glance at the etching plate balancing so delicately on his fingers. A lifelong bachelor, Annan was tall, and had a characteristic bald cranium well depicted in a drawing of 1902 by Strang. He was precise and businesslike and despite his achievements modest, unassuming, and retiring. He died of carcinoma of the stomach at his home, Glenbank House, 1 Beechmount Road, Lenzie, Dunbartonshire, on 5 June 1946 and two days later was buried in the Auld Aisle cemetery at Kirkintilloch. It was not until the late 1970s that interest in his work revived. Yet at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, when photography was fighting for recognition as an art in its own right, he was ‘universally conceded … to be one of the ablest, the most gifted, most artistic of the really great pictorial photographic leaders of the times’ (Keiley, 197).


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T & R Annan & Sons Ltd (1855-)

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'Annan, James Craig (1864-1946)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2005 [, accessed 28 July 2014]

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Biographical History Author: William Buchanan

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