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Lanes About to Disappear

In 1870 Thomas Annan was tasked with photographing a dedalus of unsanitary alleyways inhabited by the working class in Glasgow, before their demolition.

In the middle of the 19th century Glasgow was the second industrial city in Britain, and home to slums that had quickly expanded because of the urbanisation caused by the industrial revolution. Following a 1866 law that called for the demolition of these areas for sanitary reasons, The City of Glasgow Improvements Trust commissioned photographer Thomas Annan to document their structures and living conditions.

The buildings lacked running water or a sewage system, and were frequently ravaged by cholera and typhus epidemics. Preceding the transformative work of photographer Jacob Riis in New York City by two decades, Thomas Annan worked with bulky equipment that required long exposures in the dark streets, showing glimpses of daily life and ghostly silhouettes of people stepping into the frame, curious of the photographer’s presence.

The exhibition “Glasgow 1870, Thomas Annan. Photography and public health” will be on view at
Musée d'Orsay
until September 4.

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