Street Life in London

Street Life in London Book Cover

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Street Life in London, published in 1876-7, consists of a series of articles by the radical journalist Adolphe Smith and the photographer John Thomson. The pieces are short but full of detail, based on interviews with a range of men and women who eked out a precarious and marginal existence working on the streets of London, including flower-sellers, chimney-sweeps, shoe-blacks, chair-caners, musicians, dustmen and locksmiths. The subject matter of Street Life was not new – the second half of the 19th century saw an increasing interest in urban poverty and social conditions – but the unique selling point of Street Life was a series of photographs ‘taken from life’ by Thomson. The authors felt at the time that the images lent authenticity to the text, and their book is now regarded as a key work in the history of documentary photography.

Published copy of volume 1 of Street Life in London (Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, London, 1877) by John Thomson and Adolphe Smith.

John Thomson

John Thomson was a talented and influential photographer, who had spent ten years travelling in, and taking photographs of, the Far East. On his return to London he joined with Adolphe Smith, a socialist journalist, in a project to photograph the street life of the London poor. The volumes were published in monthly parts as Street Life in London, and were an early example of social and documentary photography.

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