Publication, 'Illustrations of China and Its People: A series of Two Hundred Photographs with Letterpress Descriptive of Places and People Represented', Volume 1, by John Thomson FRGS, in four volumes, published by Sampson Low, Marston, Low and Searle, Chiswick Press, printed by Whittingham and Wilkins, London, England, 1873-1874
'Illustrations of China and Its People' in four volumes contains plates, illustrations and substantial notes on various Chinese provinces, including Hong Kong and Macau. Its author, John Thomson was a Scottish photo-journalist who travelled in Asia during the 1860s and 1870s.
The value of the publication lies in the fact that the author managed to combine words with the mechanical reproduction of photographs of places visited and people encountered. Similar publications of the day, like the 'Picturesque Atlas of Australasia', tended to use photographs to serve as a basis for woodcuts or etchings. The 3 volume 'Picturesque Atlas of Australasia' (not an atlas as we know them today as there were relatively few maps) was an attempt with words and pictures to describe the Australia of the time, as Thomson's publication 'Illustrations of China and its People' was an invaluable record of China and its peoples at that time.
Today both publications are regarded as revealing markers of emerging nations, but Thomson's lavishly illustrated publication with extensive Woodbury-type reproductions of photographs, rather than illustrations, provides a valuable, documentary account of China and Chinese customs at that time. Produced during the 1870s when photographers were limited by a lack of a practical process for the mass reproduction of photographs, it is considered the photographer's magnum opus.
The author of the publication is John Thomson. John Thomson, FRGS (14/6/1837 - 7/10/1921 Edinburgh), was a photo-journalist and documentary style photographer who managed to technically combine words with mechanical reproduction of photographs for general publication. Thomson's involvement in wet-plate photography in South-east and East Asia over a ten-year period in the 1860s and 1870s (departing Shanghai around 1873) was pioneering work which culminated in the publication of the 4 volume book set titled 'Illustrations of China and its people'.
He is also noted for his documentary style photographs of 19th English life through a book, co-authored with Adolphe Smith, called Street life in London (1877).
As Instructor of Photography for the Royal Geographical Society, Thomson tutored many explorers of the day, promoting the use of photography as a documentary tool.
The volumes were published by Sampson Low, Marston, Low and Searle, Chiswick Press, and printed by Wittingham and Wilkins, London, England, 1873-1874.