The White Friars Annan, James Craig  (Scottish, 1864-1946)

"One of the greatest pictures ever made by means of the camera." Joseph Keliey 1901

This photograph was made in Italy in 1894 by James Craig Annan. Using the new technology of a hand-held camera, Annan captured a fleeting moment for the purpose of art. It was a groundbreaking idea that was only possible with photography and played a significant role in laying the groundwork for the recognition of photography as a unique fine art. The photogravure of the two striding monks, for all its spontaneity, is also the product of much labor on the photogravure plate. Using engraving tools, Annan faded the background, softened the forms and added detail to the faces.

‘The making of the negative is the first stage. While this initial operation requires great promptitude of action, the subsequent manipulation may be prolonged into a long-drawn-out pleasure.’ JCA

The image is from a trip to Italy Annan made with his painter engraver friend, D.Y. Cameron. His Italian photographs were shown at the second salon of the Linked Ring, to which he had recently been elected. In reviewing the 1894 Linked Ring exhibition Stieglitz wrote of Annan: ‘Here we deal with a true artist, and a decidedly poetical one at that’’. In 1895 he began to correspond with Stieglitz and in turn became recognized on the international scene. When "The White Friars" was exhibited in New York in 1900, where it was called "Monks Walking" and lent by Stieglitz, it was hailed as ‘one of the greatest pictures ever made by means of the camera’. Annan made at least two plates from the original negative and curiously the hand-work differs significantly. It appears that in the later plate he further strengthened details and added tree and buildings in the background. Perhaps he felt a static background by comparison would strengthen the impression of movement conjuring up, as the National Gallery of Scotland puts it… the glaring heat of a dusty road and the almost audible rustle of the men’s robes.

Since the early nineties James Craig Annan had been one of the chief forces in the development of pictorial photography. This portfolio of prints is his masterpiece. Limited to an edition of 75, the eleven plates include some of Annan’s most sophisticated and celebrated early work. The small photogravures masterfully etched and printed by Annan himself on Japan tissue and individually signed explore for the first time the instantaneous moments accessible only to the camera combined with the control, art and craft of traditional etching.

Reproduced / Exhibited

Buchanan, William. J. Craig Annan: Selected Texts and Bibliography. Oxford: Clio Press, 1994. fig. 10.

Buchanan, William, and J C. Annan. The Art of the Photographer: J. Craig Annan, 1864-1946. Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1992. plate 5.

Exposition D’art Photographique, Troisième Année, 1896: Catalogue. Paris: Photo-Club de Paris, 1896.

Margolis, Marianne Fulton. Alfred Stieglitz Camera Work – A Pictorial Guide. New York: Dover Publications, 1978.

Naef, Weston J. The Collection of Alfred Stieglitz: Fifty Pioneers of Modern Photography. New York: Viking Press, 1978. Plate 2, Cat. 17.

Peterson, Christian A. Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Notes. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1993.


Haworth-Booth, Mark. The Golden Age of British Photography, 1839-1900. Millerton, N.Y: Aperture, 1984. Print.

Lewis, Jacob W. Charles Negre in Pursuit of the Photographic. , 2012. Print. Lambrechts, Eric, and Luc Salu. Photography and Literature: An International Bibliography of Monographs. London: Mansell, 1992

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