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John Thomson

(1837—1921) photographer and travel writer


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(1837–1921), Scottish photographer and writer, active in Asia, Cyprus, and England. Born in Edinburgh, Thomson was apprenticed to an optician and instrument maker before moving to Singapore to set up a photographic studio in 1862. From this base he travelled and photographed widely in the South-East Asian archipelago. In 1865 he visited Thailand (where he photographed King Mongkut) and in early 1866 spent four months in Cambodia, where he took the first photographs of the great temple complex at Angkor. On his return to Europe the same year, sixteen of these views were published as original prints in his The Antiquities of Cambodia: A Series of Photographs Taken on the Spot (1867). Thomson went east again in late 1867, and in early 1868 transferred his studio from Singapore to the more flourishing photographic scene of Hong Kong. By now more professionally secure, he was commissioned in 1869 to photograph the royal visit, which led to the publication of seven of his photographs in William Beach's Visit of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh … to Hong Kong in 1869 (1869). This period also saw the creation of Thomson's most celebrated body of work, the result of several extended and often hazardous forays, 1870–2, into mainland China and Taiwan. The first published result, the fourteen albumen prints of his Views on the North River, appeared in Hong Kong in 1870.

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From The Oxford Companion to the Photograph in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Photography and Photographs.


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