/ by Sarah Jamison

  John Thomson (1837 – 1921) was a pioneering Scottish photographer, geographer and traveler. He was one of the first photographers to travel to the Far East, documenting the people, landscapes and artifacts of eastern cultures. Upon returning home, his photographs among the streets of London cemented his reputation, and is regarded as a classic instance of social documentary which laid the foundations for photojournalism. He went on to become a portrait photographer of High Society in Mayfair, gaining the Royal Warrant in 1881. In April 1862, Thomson left Edinburgh for Singapore, beginning a ten-year period spent travelling around the Far East. He established a photographic studio in Singapore. After visiting Ceylon and India from October to November 1864 to document the destruction caused by a recent cyclone, Thomson sold his Singapore studio and moved to Siam. After arrival in Bangkok in September 1865, Thomson undertook a series of photographs of the King of Siam and other senior members of the royal court and government. Thomson returned to England in 1872, settling in Brixton, London and, apart from a final photographic journey to Cyprus in 1878. Over the coming years he proceeded to lecture and publish, presenting the results of his travels in the Far East. His publications started initially in monthly magazines and were followed by a series of large, lavishly illustrated photographic books. He wrote extensively on photography, contributing many articles to photographic journals such as the British Journal of Photography. He also translated and edited Gaston Tissandier’s 1876 History and Handbook of Photography, which became a standard reference work. In recognition of his work, one of the peaks of Mount Kenya was named “Point Thomson” on his death in 1921. That same year, Henry Wellcome acquired a collection of glass negatives, totaling over 600, that were owned by Thomson. Today they are in the collection of the Wellcome Library. Some of Thomson’s work may be seen at the Royal Geographical Society’s headquarters in London.

John Thomson (1837 – 1921) was a pioneering Scottish photographer, geographer and traveler. He was one of the first photographers to travel to the Far East, documenting the people, landscapes and artifacts of eastern cultures. Upon returning home, his photographs among the streets of London cemented his reputation, and is regarded as a classic instance of social documentary which laid the foundations for photojournalism. He went on to become a portrait photographer of High Society in Mayfair, gaining the Royal Warrant in 1881. In April 1862, Thomson left Edinburgh for Singapore, beginning a ten-year period spent travelling around the Far East. He established a photographic studio in Singapore. After visiting Ceylon and India from October to November 1864 to document the destruction caused by a recent cyclone, Thomson sold his Singapore studio and moved to Siam. After arrival in Bangkok in September 1865, Thomson undertook a series of photographs of the King of Siam and other senior members of the royal court and government. Thomson returned to England in 1872, settling in Brixton, London and, apart from a final photographic journey to Cyprus in 1878. Over the coming years he proceeded to lecture and publish, presenting the results of his travels in the Far East. His publications started initially in monthly magazines and were followed by a series of large, lavishly illustrated photographic books. He wrote extensively on photography, contributing many articles to photographic journals such as the British Journal of Photography. He also translated and edited Gaston Tissandier’s 1876 History and Handbook of Photography, which became a standard reference work. In recognition of his work, one of the peaks of Mount Kenya was named “Point Thomson” on his death in 1921. That same year, Henry Wellcome acquired a collection of glass negatives, totaling over 600, that were owned by Thomson. Today they are in the collection of the Wellcome Library. Some of Thomson’s work may be seen at the Royal Geographical Society’s headquarters in London.