PREVIEW: China and Siam: Through the Lens of John Thomson, Brunei Gallery

The Brunei Gallery at the SOAS University of London will present an exhibition focusing on John Thomson’s 10 years in Asia. 

This will be the first London exhibition to be  devoted to the Scottish photographer John Thomson and his photography of Asia and will be on display from the 13th April.

All of the 150 year old photographs, discovered at the Wellcome Library in London, were widely praised by Thomson’s peers and will now get a chance for new audiences to appreciate them.

John Thomson (1837–1921) was a Scottish photographer and writer who set off for Asia in 1862. Over the next ten years he undertook numerous journeys photographing countries including Siam, Cambodia and various provinces of China. Photographs from these journeys form one of the most extensive records of any region taken in the nineteenth century. The range, depth and aesthetic quality of John Thomson’s vision mark him out as one of the most important travel photographers.

Talking about the news of the exhibition Dr Michael Pritchard, Chief Executive of The Royal Photographic Society and photo-historian commented: “John Thomson is a key figure in nineteenth-century travel and documentary photography and this exhibition, which is long overdue, finally gives proper recognition to his career and stunning imagery.”

During his trip to Siam Thomson was able to photograph King Mongkut Rama IV, his royal family and entourage, together with royal ceremonies such as the tonsurate ceremony and the presentation of the Lenten robes. Meanwhile, on his trip through Cambodia, Thomson was the first photographer to visit Angkor Wat to record, what is now, one of the most important sites of ancient architecture in the world.

Between 1868 and 1872, Thomson made extensive trips to Beijing, Fujian and Guangdong travelling down both the Yangtse and the Min Rivers. In China, Thomson captured a wide variety of subjects from landscapes to people, architecture, domestic and street scenes. This body of work would help to establish him as a pioneer of photojournalism and one of the most influential photographers of his time.

The exhibition is co-curated by Betty Yao MBE and Narisa Chakrabongse and will showcase very largeand in some cases life-size, prints. The photographs will be exhibited alongside a selection of Qing robes, textiles and Siamese court objects.

China and Siam: Through the Lens of John Thomson will be on display at the Brunei Gallery from the 13th April until the 23rd June. For more information visit:

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