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 Whistler, whose well-known ‘Venice Set’ etchings may have inspired the 1894 trip from which these works arise.
Annan and Cameron worked side by side, as their results show. Both use the horizon line as the dominant compositional element. Annan’s photograph, made with a small hand-camera, is tightly cropped, whereas Cameron allows the verges to disappear, as in Whistler’s treatment of the subject. Cameron has left out the gondola mooring posts that provide vertical counterweights for Whistler and Annan. Annan has gently enhanced the edges of the buildings outlined against the sky, mirroring an effect seen in Cameron’s pencil drawing. Such hand-work was possible with photogravure, a fine photomechanical process that Annan had learned from its Viennese inventor, Karel Klic, when Annan’s father Thomas bought the British rights to the process for his printing company, T. & R. Annan. The firm made gravure reproductions for artists, and James became close to ‘the circle of young Glaswegian artists like James Guthrie, John Lavery, E.A. Walton, [and] D.Y. Cameron, now known as the ‘Glasgow School’. Annan added: The constant communication with these men and the most careful studies of the old masters were the only art education I received and regard it as extremely valuable.’
The etchings and nocturnes of James Abbott McNeill 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. Such photographs paralleled the unpeopled landscapes of contemporary artists of the day.
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