David Young Cameron described James Craig Annan’s photogravure of Venice as ‘a dream in the softest tones dedicated in loving homage to the Bride of the Sea lying enchanted and far away across the long low lines of grey lagoons’. Annan’s print was also a homage to James McNeill Whistler, whose well-known ‘Venice Set’ etchings may have inspired the 1894 trip from which these works arise. The etchings and nocturnes of Whistler inspired photographers, who adopted his atmospheric subjects and aesthetics. While photography had achieved a technical sophistication that allowed photographers to produce highly resolved, realistic images, many chose to pursue soft-focus effects rather than detail and precision. Annan was particularly fascinated by photography’s ability to render mood and atmosphere, essential qualities in Whistler’s work, through the manipulation of the tonal character of the image. He considered atmosphere an important element in photography: ‘in judging an ordinary photograph; he declared in 1892, ‘one of the chief points to be considered is, to what extent the feeling of atmosphere has been introduced into it.’
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. The tension between phocography emulating painting and a truthful photography able to represent a new art form is dearly visible in Venice and Lombardy and reveals Annan’s ability to articulate the most advanced issues of his rime. His portfolio, Ken Jacobson argues, ‘containing signed, tiny, gem-like photogravures might be seen as the precursor for the style of [ … ] Camera Work,’ a widely praised journal and a vehicle of modem photography printed from 1903. It was published for the Photo-Secession by the master of photography Alfred Stieglitz who greatly admired Annan and was certainly influenced by his work.
Jacobi, Carol, and Hope Kingsley. "Painting with Light: Art and Photography from the Pre-Raphaelites to the Modern Age" , 2016. pl. 85
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. 22.
Stevenson, Sara, and Duncan Forbes. "A Companion Guide to Photography in the National Galleries of Scotland". Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 2009. p. 118
Jacobson Ken. 2007. Odalisques & Arabesques : Orientalist Photography 1839-1925. London: Quaritch.
Bologna, Gabriella, The Aesthetics of British Photography. A Case Study: James Craig Annan’s Portfolio Venice and Lombardy in Anon. 2013. Aesthetic Lives : ‘New Experiences New Subjects of Poetry New Forms of Art’. High Wycombe Bucks England: Rivendale Press