Monday, February 9, 2009

Early China photographer: John Thomson

Cantonese woman 1868-72, captioned "Woman of the working class", John Thomson

John Thomson (1837-1921) was an amazing Scottish photographer that we can thank for a treasure of excellent photographs from a very early era of China photography. He made numerous trips through large parts of the mainland, as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan during the period 1868-1872. He was also a pioneer of photojournalism, producing images of excellent quality, emotion and range.

From Wikipedia:

Thomson's travels in China were often perilous, as he visited remote, almost unpopulated regions far inland. Most of the people he encountered had never seen a Westerner or camera before. His expeditions were also especially challenging because he had to transport his bulky wooden camera, many large, fragile glass plates, and potentially explosive chemicals. He photographed in a wide variety of conditions and often had to improvise because chemicals were difficult to acquire. His subject matter varied enormously: from humble beggars and street people to Mandarins, Princes and senior government officials; from remote monasteries to Imperial Palaces; from simple rural villages to magnificent landscapes.


  1. Lovely, beautiful photo!
    And here I am thinking of getting a teeny, weeny small camera because the smallish one I've already got is sometimes too big and bulky.
    I can see Mr Thomson raising his eyebrows and giving a deep sigh at my modern day, western world "problems"...

  2. I think that if he had lived today he might just have a small Leica in his pocket to capture all those everyday moments that come across our paths when we least expect them. Remember, he was one of the pioneers of photojournalism...doesn't mean that he wouldn't have a big camera too. The one doesn't exclude the other, the most important thing, I think is to capture the picture!