John Thomson street photographer of ancient China arrives in London in 2018

John Thomson took early street photos of Ancient China and Old Siam back in the 1860s when cameras were the size of carry on hand luggage, and developing had to be done in situ. We are thrilled to announce the first London exhibition of these unique photos, opening in April 2018

John Thomson set off for Asia in 1862 as a young man and fell in love with the people and places he found there. He was an early pioneer of photography and over the next ten years he undertook numerous journeys photographing countries in Asia including Siam, Cambodia, Vietnam and many areas in China.

The photographs of these journeys form one of the most extensive records of any region taken in the 19th century. The range, depth and aesthetic quality of John Thomson’s photographic vision mark him out as one of the most important travel photographers.

Betty Yao

Co-curators Betty Yao and Narisa Chakrabongse are bringing to London for the first time a special exhibition of John Thomson’s work in China and Old Siam taken in the 1860s.

Narisa Chakrabongse

They are joined by me, Yang-May Ooi, as the exhibition’s multi-media blogger.

Our exhibition blog will share images, news and updates on all things John Thomson from now through the spring and summer of 2018 to the exhibition close. Please come back from time to time to learn all about John Thomson and his passion for Asia, stories about his life and work, curious info about photography in the Victorian period as well as news about the exhibition and related events.

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Come to the John Thomson Exhibition


We hope to see you at the exhibition! The details are below:

Exhibition: Through the Lens of John Thomson

Venue: Brunei Gallery, SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, London WC1H 0XG, near Russell Square

Dates: 13 April to 23 June 2018





The John Thomson Exhibition Blog features multi-media stories about John Thomson, the Victorian photographer, and the London exhibition of his photos of China and Old Siam from the 1860s, Through the Lens of John Thomson, co-curated by Betty Yao and Narisa Chakrabongse.


Yang-May Ooi is the multi-media blogger for the John Thomson Exhibition. She is the bestselling author of The Flame Tree and acclaimed writer/ performer of Bound Feet Blues. She also hosts a number of podcasts, including Creative Conversations.