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Close No. 139 Saltmarket

This image is from a series commissioned by the City of Glasgow Improvements Trust. It was intended to document the impoverished living conditions of the working-class areas of old Glasgow. The city was in the midst of the largest population growth in its history, quadrupling in size between 1800 and 1850, and again between 1850 and 1925. Many of the new residents were immigrants from Ireland or the Highlands living in “made down houses” or tenements.

An English writer in 1844 wrote, “I have seen human degradation in some of its worst phases...but I can advisedly say, that I did not believe, until I visited the wynds of Glasgow that so large an amount of filth, crime, misery, and disease existed in one spot in any civilised country.” While Annan didn’t consider himself to be a social reformer, his naturalistic photographs of ghostly moving figures in alleyways with overflowing sewers comprise one of the most moving records of poverty produced in the nineteenth century. Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection also includes a photogravure from this series (Eskenazi Museum of Art 78.2.6).

Thomas Annan
Scottish, 1829–1887
Close No. 139 Saltmarket from The Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow
1868 (published 1877)
Carbon print
Image: 10 7/8 x 8 7/8 in. (27.6 x 22.5 cm); sheet: 20 1/16 x 15 in. (51.2 x 38.1 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 85.53.5