John Thomson, 'Street Life in London'

John Thomson, 'Street Life in London'

John Thomson (1837-1921)
'Street Life in London
Carbon print (woodburytype)
Museum no. PH. 323-1982 to PH.327-1982

The Photographs

In the late 1870s Thomson embarked on his most well known project, photographing the lives the people living on the streets of London.

'Street Life in London' was published in twelve instalments throughout 1877 and the beginning of 1878. Three of Thomson's photographs appeared in each edition with three stories mainly written by the journalist Adolphe Smith, who held reformist views and worked as the official interpreter for the TUC from 1886 to 1905.

With social problems gaining increased attention in the 1870s through the work of such men as Charles Dickens and the founder of homes for destitute children, Dr Barnado, these vignettes of survival among the poor proved popular with the public. The hopes and aspirations, values and needs of those portrayed were recognisable to the readers of other classes. The photographs added a graphic realism to the stories. Stephen White, 'John Thomson', Thames & Hudson, 1985. The 12 instalments were published in a single volume in 1878.

The Photographer

Born in Edinburgh in 1837, John Thomson travelled widely in Asia during the 1860s, taking images of places such as Singapore, Siam, Cambodia and China.

In 1873 he returned to England and began compiling and publishing books based on his travels. In the late 1870s he photographed London street scenes. He travelled to Cyprus in 1879 and returned to London to set up a portrait studio in 1881. He died in 1921.


This photograph can be found in Print Room Box 13.