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June 15, 2016

44 Incredible Vintage Photographs of the Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow From the 1860s and 1870s

Thomas Annan (1829–1887) was the son of a Fife farmer and flax spinner and lived for most of his life in Glasgow. After training and working as a copperplate engraver, he set up a photographic studio in Sauchiehall Street in 1857. Annan concentrated initially on architectural photography but then turned his attention to portraits.

In 1866 Annan was commissioned by Glasgow City Improvement Trust to photograph slum areas in the old part of the city before urban renewal took place. This resulted in the landmark series of photographs, Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow, which was published between 1868 and 1877.

These photographs he made of the streets, wynds and closes of ‘old’ Glasgow around Glasgow Cross in the East of the city. Most of Annan’s images show the closes and wynds as deserted, with a few people, or an occasional group pressed in between walls. This is partly because of the technical limitations of early photography. Long exposure times were required, and some of the images would have taken minutes. It was therefore difficult to photograph the living as movement produced disturbing ‘ghost’ images. In these urban images we therefore only see people out of doors, on the streets.

The overall effect created in Annan’s images is one of deep space, and a penetrating view. There is also a feeling of stillness, a kind of loneliness and isolation. When people do appear they seem trapped in a maze of buildings and they are also set safely at some distance from the photographer, as observers looking at the image now. We have little sense that these were in fact bustling thoroughfares teeming with life.


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