Annan’s portrait of William Strang as the etching printer illustrates Annan’s strong connection with the etchers of the period including William Strang, D. Y. Cameron, Muirhead Bone
“As the gravure plates and the edition there from have virtually been made by Mr. Annan himself, this series [of five images] has an increased interest and value, for their quality as gravures is as remarkable as the quality of the original prints." Stieglitz, Camera Work XIX
"The Etching Printer", a portrait of an artist in full creative flow displays Annan’s skill in manipulation. In "The Etching Printer" Annan depicts both traditional etching, and by extension the new, more technological process of photogravure, as subject to the hand of the artist, even in the deployment of a technical practice. His softening of the background to concentrate the viewer’s attention to Strang’s eyes and the plate balanced lightly on his fingers. The white flash of exposed paper that covers the entire right top quadrant of the gravure works to emblematize both Strang’s involvement with the etching plate in the course of creation, and Annan’s clever graphic manipulation of the image.
One of Annan’s finest portraits. He worked this plate aggressively, fading both the foreground and background to allow concentration on the real subject which is an artist in the heat of work. Strang’s darting glance asses the etching plate resting it so delicately on his fingers. This print is the product of Annan’s manipulative skills and is done with immense panache.
Born in Dumbarton, William Strang was briefly a clerk in the family shipbuilding firm before he entered the Slade School of Art in London in 1876. At the Slade he was deeply influenced by the teaching of Alphonse Legros, particularly the etching class which Legros instituted in 1877. The subject matter of Strang’s etchings, largely produced between 1880 and 1900, ranges from intense portraits to scenes of working-class life and imaginary grotesques. By the turn of the century, Strang was developing the symbolic themes of his printed work in oil paintings, using rich colours in a style ultimately influenced by Venetian art. This atmospheric photogravure shows Strang preparing an etching plate, with the wheel of a printing press behind him.
Original image before manipulation: Buchanan, William, and J C. Annan. The Art of the Photographer: J. Craig Annan, 1864-1946. Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1992. Fig. 15
Buchanan, William. J. Craig Annan: Selected Texts and Bibliography. Oxford: Clio Press, 1994. fig. 16.
Buchanan, William, and J C. Annan. The Art of the Photographer: J. Craig Annan, 1864-1946. Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1992. plate 13.
Gernsheim, Helmut. Creative Photography. Aesthetic Trends 1839-1960. [with Illustrations]. London: Faber & Faber, 1962. p. 134
Kruse, Margret. Kunstphotographie Um 1900: D. Sammlung Ernst Juhl; Hamburg: Museum für Kunst u. Gewerbe, 1989 pl. 22
Morrison-Low, A D, Julie Lawson, and Ray McKenzie. Photography 1900: The Edinburgh Symposium. Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland, 1994. fig. 18.
Naef, Weston J. The Collection of Alfred Stieglitz: Fifty Pioneers of Modern Photography. New York: Viking Press, 1978. no. 30.
Peterson, Christian A. Camera Work: Process & Image : [exhibition, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, August 31-November 3, 1985, Seattle, Seattle Art Museum, November 22, 1985-February 2, 1986]. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Institute of arts, 1985. p. 39
Stevenson, Sara, and Alison Morrison-Low. Light from the Dark Room: A Celebration of Scottish Photography : a Scottish-Canadian Collaboration. Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1995. p. 10