4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

"Street Life in London": Pioneering Social Documentary Photography as a Form of Photojournalism (1876 – 1877)


From 1876 to 1877 Scottish photographer, geographer and traveler John Thomson, in collaboration with the radical journalist Adolphe Smith, published a monthly magazine, Street Life in London illustrated with Woodburytype photomechanical reproductions of photographs. The twelve parts were collected and issued in book form by Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington in 1877. The project documented in photographs and text the lives of street people of London. Smith's short essays were based on interviews with a range of men and women who eked out a precarious and marginal existence working on the streets, including flower-sellers, chimney-sweeps, shoe-blacks, chair-caners, musicians, dustmen, locksmiths, beggars and petty criminals. However, Thomson's photographs conveyed even more information. Out of a genuine concern for their welfare and living conditions, Thomson introduced social documentary photography as a form of photojournalism. Instead of the images acting as a supplement to the text, his photomechanically reproduced photographs became the the predominant medium for the imparting of information, successfully combining photography with the printed word.