|Street Life in London, published in 1876-77, when photography was still in its infancy. This book of essays and photos is highly regarded as an important work in the history of documentary photography. It consists of a series of short individual articles by the "radical socialist journalist" (as he was often referred), Adolphe Smith and photography by the Scottish photojournalist John Thomson (1837-1921). Smith portrayed the lives of impoverished tradesmen and women, such as flower sellers, street doctors, fishmongers and chimney sweeps, who eked out a living on the streets of London in the second half of the 19th century. Their work was originally published as a monthly series and soon after reissued in book form as Street Life. Their intention was never artistic, but it was to inform the middle class of the plight of the poor and homeless working class. Thomson's 21 brown-tone photos were reproduced photomechanically by the difficult and now obsolete Woodburytype process which resulted in a strikingly sharp, almost three-dimensional quality with a wide tonal range. When this book was published, it marked the first collection of social documentary photographs anywhere in the world. Moreover, it brought readers some empathy for the tradesmen and women and gave these poor people a small measure of dignity. View the full text of this book here. |
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