JOHN THOMSON. Illustrations of China and its People. Volumes I and II. Each volume with 24 photographic plates, many with multiple photographs, for a total of 110 images, including studies of dwellings and other structures; splendid landscapes of various provinces; and intimate ethnographic portraits depicting people of different occupations and provincial backgrounds. With letterpress descriptive text by Thomson throughout. Collotypes, the images measuring approximately 2 1/2x2 to 12x10 inches (6.4x5 to 30.5x25.4 cm.), and the reverse. Folios, gilt-lettered and illustrated dark brown leather, backstrips perished and edges worn; bookplates, scattered foxing; all edges gilt. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1873
Estimate $15,000 - 25,000
Thomson's introduction to his sweeping Illustrations of China and its People begins: "My design in the accompanying work is to present a series of pictures of China and its people, such as shall convey an accurate impression of the county I traversed as well as of the arts, usages, and manners which prevail in different provinces of the Empire. With this intention I made the camera the constant companion of my wanderings, and to it I am indebted for the faithrul reproduction of the scenes I visited, and of the types of race with which I came into contact."
Thomson was born in Scotland, and traveled to Singapore to operate a watchmaking and photography business with his brother in 1862. He traveled extensively in Asia, documenting the people, landscapes, and monuments he encountered. In 1868 he moved to Hong Kong, with the intention of embarking on a project to photograph China. He traveled more than 6,500 grueling kilometers before 1872, carrying his cumbersome camera, equipment, and darkroom chemicals with him, often in regions westerners had not yet seen.
Thomson returned to Britain a decade later to publish his images and writing. He is the first known photographer to to document the people and landscapes of China for Western dissemination and publication, and is often considered a pioneer in photojournalism.