(b Edinburgh, June 14, 1837; d London, Sept 30, 1921).
Scottish photographer and writer. After studying chemistry at Edinburgh University he settled on the island of Pinang, Malaysia, where he began practising as a professional photographer in 1862. Over the next 12 years he travelled extensively in the region, taking many photographs in Siam (now Thailand; see fig.), Cambodia, Vietnam and China. His subjects ranged from ethnography to antiquities, and his style is distinguished by the directness with which he represented landscapes and social practices that to his western contemporaries appeared almost fantastic. Despite acute difficulties of climate and terrain, he used the cumbersome wet collodion process, producing large-format (up to 360×480 mm) and stereographic negatives that are noted for their clarity of detail and richness of tone.
Unlike most travel photographers of his generation Thomson rarely exhibited his work, preferring the illustrated album as the medium best suited to his documentary approach. In all he produced nine such albums, varying widely both in format and reprographic process. The first, ...