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

Annan’s photogravure ‘The White House’ is now considered to be an important and early example of an image that is both a formal composition and casual snapshot. Annan carefully set up the view of the house and boats, but waited until the punt had drifted into exactly the right position before taking his photograph. He then reworked the image, emphasizing certain areas and blurring others, so that in the end only the canopy of the barge in front of the house boat remains sharp. The house and boats belonged to George Davison, a photographer and former Managing Director of Kodak in Britain. The boy in the punt boat is his son Ronald. (https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/10246/white-house)

Annan’s The White House is redolent of shimmering summer, indolence and wealth. It is quintessential Annan: the view carefully set up, but the exposure not made until the punt (in which Davison’s son Ronald sits) has drifted into the exact position to complete the composition. It is now seen with Stieglitz’s Going to the Start and Haviland’s Passing Steamer, as one of the ‘seminal examples of the instantaneous snapshot wedded to the formal concerns of modern art. (Buchanan, p.28).

While Pictorialism was summarily discredited and almost entirely abandoned just after World War I, this image shows that underneath the self-conscious workmanship of pictorialists, the beginnings of more modernist sensibilities were indeed percolating.

Davison joined the Eastman Photographic Materials Company in 1889, and was promoted to managing director in 1900. In 1908, Davison’s socialist politics forced his resignation from Eastman Kodak’s Board and he settled in Harlech, commissioning the Glasgow architect George Walton to design a house, Wern Fawr, where he gathered artists, musicians and political activists. Visitors included members of the Linked Ring like James Craig Annan and Alvin Langdon Coburn. In 1918, Coburn and his wife built a house nearby; they lived permanently in Wales from 1930 (Tate).

Annan took this photograph in July 1909 after the house was just completed. The man in the punt in the foreground is Davison’s son Ronald. In front of the house is moored Davison’s houseboat "The Log Cabin", which provides the location for Edward Steichen’s color photograph "On The House Boat – The Log Cabin" from 1908

Reproduced / Exhibited

Buchanan, William. J. Craig Annan: Selected Texts and Bibliography. Oxford: Clio Press, 1994. fig. 14.

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. 24

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

References

Haworth-Booth, Mark. The Golden Age of British Photography 1839-1900: Photographs from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London with Selections from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Royal Archives Windsor Castle. Millerton (NY: Aperture, 1984. p 172

Jonathan Green, Editor. Camera Work: A Critical Anthology, (New York: Aperture, 1973), p. 22.