Thomson (14 June 1837 - 7 October 1921)
one of the first photographers to travel to the Far East, documenting
the people, landscapes and artifacts of eastern cultures. His photographs
are regarded as a classic work of social documentary which laid the
foundations for photo journalism.
In April 1862, Thomson left Edinburgh for Singapore, beginning a ten
year period spent traveling around the Far East. He established a studio
in Singapore, taking portraits of European merchants, but also developed
an interest in local peoples and places. He traveled extensively throughout
the mainland territories of Malaya and the island of Sumatra, exploring
the villages and photographing the native peoples and their activities.
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 embarked on
the first of his major photographic expeditions at Angkor, deep in the
Cambodian jungle, where Thomson extensively documented the vast site,
producing some of the first known photographs of what is today a UNESCO
World Heritage Site. Thomson then moved on to Phnom Penh and took photographs
of the King of Cambodia and other members of the Cambodian Royal Family.
In 1868 Thomson established a studio in Hong Kong and spent the next
four years photographing the people of China and recording the diversity
of Chinese culture. Thomson traveled throughout China, from the southern
trading ports of Hong Kong and Canton to the cities of Peking and Shanghai,
the Great Wall in the north, and deep into central China.
Thomson's travels in China were often dangerous, as he visited remote,
almost unpopulated regions far inland. Most of the people he encountered
had never seen a Westerner or camera before. 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.
Thomson returned to Britain in 1872. 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
He went on to become a fashionable Mayfair portrait photographer of
High Society, gaining the Royal Warrant in 1881.