For our 50th title we've chosen to publish a brand-new edition of this innovative and hugely influential work - pioneering in so many ways: in its use of ethnological recording, of documentary photography, and as one of the most far-reaching photobooks in the medium's history. Our aim is to bring this important work to the attention of contemporary readers, photographers and researchers who may not have experienced its power, passion and commitment to change.
Street Life in London was created in 1877-78 by photographer John Thomson and radical journalist Adolphe Smith as a monthly part-work whose aim was to reveal - first-hand and in detail - the conditions of a life of poverty. It was a commercial failure and ceased publication after twelve issues. But its powerful blend of text and images, and its progressive standpoint, marked the beginning of socially conscious photography - and some would say of street photography - in the service of education, reportage and social justice.
Our newly-designed and typeset edition - aimed at contemporary readers - contains the full original text and makes available John Thomson’s rich, deep-brown images ("among the most perfect photographic reproductions ever made") in their original size, on premium 105gsm paper.
Emily Kathryn Morgan, Iowa State University
John Thomson and Adolphe Smith
COVENT GARDEN FLOWER WOMEN
RECRUITING SARGEANTS AT WESTMINSTER
STREET FLOODS IN LAMBETH
CLAPHAM COMMON INDUSTRIES
CANEY THE CLOWN
DEALER IN FANCY-WARE
THE TEMPERANCE SWEEP
THE DRAMATIC SHOE-BLACK
TICKETS, THE CARD DEALER
THE OLD CLOTHES OF ST GILES
A CONVICTS’ HOME
THE WALL WORKER
COVENT GARDEN LABOURERS
THE CHEAP FISH OF ST GILES
WORKERS ON THE SILENT HIGHWAY
THE STREET FRUIT TRADE
THE LONDON BOARDMEN
MUSH-FAKERS AND GINGER BEER MAKERS
HOOKEY ALF OF WHITECHAPEL
ITALIAN STREET MUSICIANS
THE STREET LOCKSMITH
THE SELLER OF SHELL-FISH
THE INDEPENDENT SHOE-BLACK
Martin Parr & Gerry Badger, The Photobook: A History Volume 1. (London: Phaidon Press Ltd, 2004):
This book [Street Life in London] presents the first concerted body of work to deal with life on the streets of a major European or American city. Furthermore, it sets the photographs into a socially progressive, reforming context. [John Thomson’s] images are as lively as the street-trader portraits of Eugene Atget (facing similar technical problems) two decades later.
There is one image [The Crawlers] that takes us straight into the twentieth century. Street Life would be important for this image alone. As it is, in terms of the concept of the photographs, and the volume’s aims and ambitions as a book, Street Life in London is one of the most significant and far-reaching photobooks in the medium’s history.
Greg Leach, The Crawlers: The Genesis of Social Documentary Photography. (Photomonitor, September 2016):
First published in 1878, the book Street Life in London, by Scottish photographer John Thomson and writer Adolphe Smith, was reissued two years ago by MuseumsEtc Ltd in an attempt to secure its seminal place in the history of the medium, building upon its acknowledged role in the emergence of socially concerned photography. The enduring influence of the work has largely rested on one photograph, entitled The Crawlers. Why did this image emerge out of a project that so comprehensively charts the diverse activities of Victorian Londoners? Why does it retain its potency and immediacy where so many contemporaneous photographs have become relics of history? Read more…
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