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Photograph - The "Crawlers"
  • The "Crawlers"
    Thomson, John, born 1837 - died 1921
  • Enlarge image

The "Crawlers"

  • Object:


  • Date:

    1877 (photographed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Thomson, John, born 1837 - died 1921 (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case X, shelf 37, box A

Object Type

The photographer John Thomson (1837-1921) used the 'Woodburytype' process patented in 1864 for the images in Street Life in London, including this photograph. This was a type of photomechanical reproduction using pigmented gelatin, usually of a rich purple-brown colour. The process was complicated but remained popular until about 1900 because of the high quality and permanence of the finished images.


John Thomson (born in Edinburgh, 1837, died in London, 1921) was a photographer and writer. He enjoyed travelling and settled on the island of Pinang, Malaysia, becoming a professional photographer in 1862. Until 1864 he travelled to Siam (now Thailand), Cambodia, Vietnam and China and took photographs of landscapes and social scenes that would have seemed very unusual to a western audience. He prefered to publish his photographs in albums rather than hold exhibitions, promoting the documentary aspect of his work. In 1872 Thomson returned to London and produced Street Life in London (1877) with the writer Adolphe Smith Headingly, a study of destitution in the East End. This was one of the first books to use photographs to illustrate claims made in the text.

Real or Posed?

The people in the pictures were arranged or posed by Thomson to form interesting compositions. However, the results were often naturalistic because the subjects and surroundings were always authentic.

Physical description

Photograph of a woman sitting on a doorstep with baby in her arms.


1877 (photographed)


Thomson, John, born 1837 - died 1921 (photographer)

Materials and Techniques



Height: 11.5 cm, Width: 8.8 cm

Descriptive line

19thC; Thomson John, The 'Crawlers', Street life in London

Labels and date

British Galleries
These photographs were first published in 12 instalments in 1877-1878 in a series entitled 'Street Life in London'. John Thomson had earlier photographed in China and recognized London as a remarkable new subject. Together with journalist Adolphe Smith he wrote commentaries on each image. 'Street Life' is among the earliest and most evocative examples of social documentary photography. [14/07/2006]




Photographs; Scotland; Europeana Fashion Project


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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