Most Americans think photographing the living conditions of the poor started with the FPA program that was active during the Great Depression from 1935 – 1943. The FPA was responsible for keeping artists and photographers in jobs documenting American life and creating public art during those dark economic times. Many famous works were made under this program including Dorthea Lange’s Migrant Mother.
Photographing the poor actually has much deeper roots. Thomas Annan (born 1829, died 1887) was a Scottish photographer most known for his series Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow which recorded the slums in Scotland. In 1866, he was commissioned by Glasgow City Improvement Trust to document the substandard living conditions of the poor in the city’s slums.
Thomas Annan also was an accomplished photographer of portraits and landscapes. His most famous subject was David Livingstone, the explorer and medical missionary.
He was noted in the respected publications of the British Journal of Photography, and Photographic News. In 1865, he won an award for “the best landscape in Scotland” from the Photographic Society of Scotland.
Thomas Annan’s legacy lives on through the generations in the form of Annan Fine Art Gallery, in the West End of Glasgow.