During my stay in the United Kingdom, I fell in love with Scottish cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh. These are beautiful, well planned and clean cities. And incidentally, today’s famous photograph is coming right from the streets of Glasgow. This photo comes from a time when photography was in its nascent stage. Those were not the times of point-and-shoot cameras. Photography used to be a very serious profession. Photography is still a very serious profession, art and science –but in those times –hardship of taking photos was much more.
There used to be some slum areas in Glasgow. They could still be there but I am not aware of them. In 1845, Friedrich Engels, the German philosopher, noted in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England:
“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 in one spot in any civilised country. The wynds consist of long lanes, so narrow that a cart could with difficulty pass along them; out of these open the ‘closes’, which are courts about fifteen or twenty feet square, round which the houses, mostly three or four storeys high, are built; the centre of the court is the dunghill, which probably is the most lucrative part of the estate to the laird in most instances, and which it would consequently be esteemed an invasion of the rights of property to remove. In the lower lodging houses, ten, twelve, or 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 would stable his horse in.”
So, in order to improve the overall quality of the Glasgow city, the Glasgow City Improvement Trust decided to take photos of the slum areas of the city.
In the year 1866, the Glasgow City Improvement Trust decided to given the commission Thomas Annan. Thomas Annan was a Scottish photographer. He was well known for his photographic records of the bad housing conditions of the poor in Scotland. Annan excellently performed his job and produced the first photographic record of the situation of urban poor. Annan took 30-35 photographs over a period of three years (1868-1871). So, you can imagine how tricky it was to take photos in those times.
The presented photograph is part of that collection which was named as the Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow. This photograph was taken as “plate number 7” and it shows the Close, No. 75 on High Street in Glasgow.
Annan’s Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow is regarded as one of the finest photographic works of the 19th century.
For more information on Thomas Annan’s work, check out the Glasgow University’s webpage.
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