Campo San Margherita Annan, James Craig  (Scottish, 1864-1946)

When evaluating the chiaroscuro masterpiece "Campo San Margherita", a striking vertical composition taken in 1894 during his visit to the Campo San Margherita piazza in Venice – an outdoor market and tourist destination still popular today, the idea of Modernism, a decidedly 20th Century school as applied to the photographic arts, should be taken seriously -considering the intent and evidence posed by this finished work. Documentary, cubist in form and radically pictorial for its time, this slice of life study showing the interaction of a market vendor and customer can be dissected for compositional posterity with the intent a post-mortem of sorts by this reviewer is reason enough when re-considering the historical record of early photographic aesthetics. First off, Scotsman Annan was a master engraver and pioneer of the hand-pulled photogravure, an intaglio process similar to etching, but with the matrix of a photographic negative “from life” doing the stand-in for the artists brush or pencil. With this control afforded, the photographic results transferred to a copper plate could be altered at will depending on artistic intent, giving Annan the ability to subtly control and change aspects of his composition after he took the initial exposure by camera. Arbitrarily beginning at the bottom of the frame, a subtle flow begins to develop reaching near the top of this composition. Here we see the Campo San Margherita title, with letters spanning the entire width of the vertical composition placed in its own compartmentalized box serving as anchor to the entire work. An extensive overview of the photographic career of Scotsman James Craig Annan appeared in the June, 1897 issue of the Bulletin d’Association Belge de Photographie, including this plate taken in Venice in 1894 and numerous halftones of his work. Running a full 16 pages, (pp. 401-417) the article also discussed a touring exhibition of his work in Belgium, including several installation photos and a review. Annan personally  etched and printed this plate Campo San Margherita for the Belgian Society of Photography Bulletin.


Bulletin : Association Belge de Photographie. Bulletin. Bruxelles: 1897. Vol. 24  Vol. XXIV p. 375 June No. 6