Sims Reed Rare Books×

Street Incidents. A Series of Twenty-One Permanent Photographs, with Descriptive Letter-Press

Thomson, John. Thomson, J. & Adolphe Smith

London. Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington. 1881
Street Incidents, John Thomson's photographic depictions of London's street life.

Published as a shortened version of Thomson's earlier Street Life in London, Street Incidents contains 16 fewer plates, though apart from the altered title the binding is the same. It is unknown whether the plates were reprinted due to the popularity of the work or whether the present volume was reissued with fewer plates to ensure sale of the publisher's stock.

Thomson's photographs in 'Street Life in London' and the commentary upon the images by Thomson and Adolphe Smith, depict a London in which life is a harsh and continuous struggle. The characters on view here are familiar to us more from Dickens' novels or from an idea of the Whitechapel of Jack the Ripper than from any nostalgic image of a strait-laced or patrician Victorianism. Each image is accompanied by descriptive text. Thomson and Smith are sympathetic to the objects of their study and seem intent on cataloguing the variety of types to be found rather than attempting any Barnum-like freakshow.

As Thomson himself writes: 'The precision and accuracy of photography enables us to present true types of the London poor and shield us from the accusation of either underrating or exaggerating individual peculiarities of appearance'.

'Street Life in London ... constitutes the first photographic social documentation of any kind.' (Gernsheim - The History of Photography pg. 447).

' ... one of the most significant and far-reaching photobooks in the medium's history.' (The Photobook I, 48).

[Parr / Badger I, 48; see Gernsheim pg. 447].
pp. (i), 100 (including 21 leaves with plates). 4to. (284 x 222 mm). Title, list of plates and twenty-one monochrome Woodburytype photographs, each mounted on card within a red border with title in red. Original publisher's green cloth, with gilt title and elaborate decoration in blind and gilt figures from 'Covent Garden Flower Women' and 'the London Boardmen', printed floral endpapers, later cloth box with label with pictorial title to front board and label with title to spine (both taken from the binding itself).

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