Street life of Victorian London in rare historical photographs, 1873-1877

These rare historical photographs were taken from 1873 to 1877 and are part of Street Life in London, a book that was one of the first examples of social documentary photography.

The author, photographer John Thomson and journalist Adolph Smith, aimed to document the innovative use of photography and the living conditions of poverty in London.

Born in Scotland in 1837, John Thomson was a pioneering documentary photographer, one of a breed for whom arduous travel in extremely difficult conditions did not dampen enthusiasm.

Exploring and Photographing China for Ten Years (1862–72), he wrote Antiquities of Cambodia (1867), Portrait of China and its People (1873–74), and the Straits of Malacca, his photographs and texts of his travels in Indo published to. China and China (1877).

Returning to London, Thomson turned his attention to the city, his Street Life in London (1877), which is often credited with being the first in which photographs were used as a social document.

He later developed the art of "at home" portraits, was appointed photographer for Queen Victoria and was photographic advisor to the Royal Geographic Society. He died in 1921.

By the middle of the twentieth century people's perception of the poor had changed. Previously seen as morally flawed, the poor were now considered objects of study and charity.

Henry Mayhew's monumental London Labor and the London Poor, published in 1851, was painted by woodcuts based on photographs by Richard Beard.

While Street Life in London is hardly a work as extensive as Mayhew's, its merits is that its photographic reproductions not only show subjects as they really appear, but by capturing the contemporary streetscape of London, they are presented as their own. also manifest in the environment.

The book is famous for these street photographs, but the accompanying text should not be overlooked. Thomson wrote some (signed J.T.), but most of them were written by Adolf Smith (A.S.), a journalist who became an activist concerned with labor and unions.

Smith's short essays were based on interviews with many men and women who worked out a precarious and marginal existence working in the streets, including flower-sellers, chimney-sweepers, shoe-blacks, chair-canners, musicians, dustbins, Locksmiths included. Beggars, and petty criminals.

It is impossible not to recognize the sympathy that both Smith and Thomson feel for their subjects, who are often threatened by deprivation and hunger.

The costumes and backgrounds depicted in photographs may seem picturesque to us today, but Thomson's subjects are trapped in an unbroken cycle of poverty.

According to The Photobook: A History by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger "Structurally, street life is a combination of street portraits ... and interviews with subjects. It was thus a direct predecessor of the journalistic picture stories that followed from that period." will appear in illustrated magazines. ... a pioneering work of social documentation in photographs and in words ... one of the most important and far-reaching photobooks in the history of the medium".

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