Venice & Lombardy: a series of photogravures

Item author: James Craig Annan
Item date: Glasgow: T. & R. Annan & Sons, 1896
Grant Value: £3,000
Item cost: £15,000
Item date acquired: 2019
Item institution: National Library of Scotland
Town/City: Edinburgh

This book arose from a trip the Scottish photographer James Craig Annan (1864-1946) made to northern Italy in 1894, in the company of the artist David Young Cameron. The photographs he took during this trip are regarded as some of his finest. They show his mastery of using a hand-held camera to capture fleeting moments (what Cartier Bresson would later define as the 'decisive moment'). Annan's approach to photography was to select first the general composition and then to “wait until the figures unconsciously group and pose themselves.” The resulting eleven photogravures in this book are classics of the pictorialist tradition in late 19th-century and early 20th-century photography. The hugely influential American art dealer, publisher, and editor Alfred Stieglitz referred to one the prints reproduced in this book, ‘The white friars,’ as “one of the greatest pictures ever made by means of the camera.”

Annan and his father Thomas (also a famous photographer) travelled to Vienna in 1883 to learn the photogravure process (the creation of etchings derived from photographic negatives) from the inventor, Karel Klíč. They introduced the process into Britain, and the family firm of T. & R. Annan, having acquired the British patent holder rights, was to become the leading firm in Britain in gravure photographic printing. James Craig Annan was a great believer in the versatility and artistic potential of the process, as well as its permanency, and regularly chose to exhibit his work in photogravure.

This copy of the book is number five of 75 copies, although it is highly likely that far fewer copies in book form were actually produced. Most extant sets in the UK survive as loose plates and only one other copy of the actual book has been traced in major UK libraries. The book consists of a title page, list of contents, and the photogravures printed on tissue paper and partially mounted on individual leaves. It is in its original quarter leather binding of reverse-calf with drab cloth boards and was a gift by Annan to the Glasgow Art Club. The acquisition of Venice & Lombardy is a very welcome addition to the Library's strong holdings of photographically illustrated books by Scottish photographers

'The White Friars' photogravure plate from "Venice & Lombardy".
'The White Friars' photogravure plate from "Venice & Lombardy". Courtesy of the National Library of Scotland.
'Pippa'
'Pippa'. Courtesy of the National Library of Scotland.