The Church or the World

The Church or the World

Printed title on plate and listed in index:  The Church And the World (sic)

Photograph taken by Annan in 1893

Printed (Druck): Georg Büxenstein & Comp.

Author William Buchanan, in his article titled:  J. Craig Annan, International Pictorialist, comments on this photograph:

“The title The Church or the World could suggest a late Pre-Raphaelite canvas by Holman Hunt.  A girl, seated on a pony, is attended by two robed figures.  She has arrived at a moment of consequence: she must decide between embracing religious vows or remaining in the frivolous world.  From the start the fates conspired against Annan’s unfortunate print.  In the way of picture titles it often appeared incorrectly.  The Church and the World gives a very different connotation to the scenario.  Annan’s occasional fondness for printing an image in reverse also worked against it.  As a result she became a most indecisive lady.  Sometimes she faced one way, sometimes the other.”  In France, Robert Demachy praised it…(translation): “he successfully overcomes one of the greatest difficulties in photography: allegory…However it took all the artistry and subtlety of this remarkably gifted artist to obtain this result”).  (1.)

Buchanan also writes in an earlier publication about the photograph:

“To produce what could be classified as costume pieces Annan sometimes used members of the local dramatic society.”…”One of the earliest and most unfortunate is The Church or the World of 1893 with its allegorical pretensions.”   (2.)

A different perspective of the photo is put forth by Edmond Sacré, a photographer and member of L’Association Belge de Photographie.  Writing in 1897, Sacré reviews the photo for the Bulletin de l’Association Belge de Photographie:

“Let us stop for a moment at the three works in which there is a search for composition, and a philosophical or symbolic idea.  In this category belongs the print entitled The Church or the World.  Because  of its rather sombre aspect, you could not grasp at once what the author wanted to portray…It is of a young girl in white, with a crown of flowers.  She is looking straight at you and is seated on a small grey horse near to which are two monks, with hoods.  The location is a forest interior in a mysterious setting and light…We love the work because of the effort that has been put into the aim of creating an idea whose concept is not perfect, but is nevertheless not without merit…”   (3.)

Finally, esteemed curator Weston Naef weighs in with this observation:

“In style and content this image is diametrically opposite Cat. 11 (The Road Through the Dunes) and represents Annan’s flirtation with the anti-naturalistic mode of photography, an aspect that made him appealing to the Munich Secession of 1898.  The posed quality reappears in Annan’s portraits, suggesting the possibility of retaining two styles simultaneously, which duplicated Stieglitz’s vacillation between posed and natural subjects during 1887-1899.”  (4.)

1.  J. Craig Annan: Selected texts and bibliography : Edited by William Buchanan : Clio Press : 1994 : pp. 6-7
2. The Art of the Photographer J. Craig Annan 1864-1946 : William Buchanan : National Galleries of Scotland : 1992 : p. 23
3.  J. Craig Annan: Selected texts and bibliography : Edited by William Buchanan : Clio Press : 1994 : pp. 76-77
4. The Collection of Alfred Stieglitz: Fifty Pioneers of Modern Photography: Weston J. Naef: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1978 : p. 261

Original copy for this entry posted to Facebook on March 4, 2012:


“Costume piece” is a term rarely encountered anymore, but in the late 19th century when photographers did their best to expand the context of the artfully staged genre photograph by using trained actors or regular folks dressed in costumes to act out a scene for the sake of the camera, it was the associated photographic style often cited in the literature of its’ day. Seen here, “The Church or the World”, by Scottish photographer James Craig Annan, is a fascinating and extreme example of a costume piece mixing allegory and straight portraiture. Combined with the title, sometimes confounding the critics when changed to “The Church and the World”, as well as his sometimes printing the image in reverse, was a mischievous way for Annan to ask more questions than it actually answered.

The Church or the World

Image Dimensions14.9 x 18.7 cm : Art folio #5, plate #1