John Thomson’s photographic vision marks him out as one of history’s most important travel photographers. Featuring dramatic images developed from negatives preserved in London’s Wellcome Library, this exhibition introduces the sights and people of nineteenth-century Thailand as witnessed by Thomson’s camera.
Young boy identified as Sudjai Bunnag
Panorama of the Chao Phraya River and Rattanakosin Island from Wat Arun
Crown Prince of Siam
Born in Edinburgh in 1837, the photographer and writer John Thomson travelled to Asia in 1862. Over the next ten years he undertook numerous journeys across the region, spending almost a year in the kingdom of Siam (modern Thailand).
During this time, Thomson was granted unique access to the court of King Mongkut (r. 1851-68). Also known as Rama IV, Mongkut was a progressive monarch. Sincerely interested in Western ideas and sciences, he was keen to exploit the relatively new technology of photography.
The photographs Thomson took in Siam include portraits and palace scenes, religious ceremonies, architecture and cityscapes. Thomson also received special permission to visit Angkor Wat (then under Siam’s control), becoming the first to photograph its famous ruins.
On his return to Britain in 1872, Thomson brought with him more than 600 glass plate negatives. This unique archive reveals the range, depth and aesthetic quality of Thomson’s photographic vision.
Siam through the lens of John Thomson, 1865–66 is part of a travelling exhibition curated by Betty Yao MBE and Narisa Chakrabongse. For more information on John Thomson and this project see the website here.
All images Wellcome Collection. CC BY.