"True Types of the London Poor": Adolphe Smith and John Thomson's Street Life in London
AuthorMorgan, Emily Kathryn
AdvisorMoore, Sarah J.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractIn February 1877, publisher Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington began release of a monthly serial called Street Life in London, by journalist Adolphe Smith and photographer John Thomson. The work aimed to reveal to readers, through novel use of photographic illustrations combined with essays, the conditions of a life of poverty in London. Appearing also as a book in late 1877, Street Life in London did not achieve commercial success in either format and was cancelled after just one year's run. This dissertation aims to demonstrate how Street Life in London was subject to and shaped by a variety of interests and forces, to understand why it failed, and to place it within the overarching contexts of Victorian social exploration and street typology. Historians of photography have justifiably praised Street Life in London as a foundational work of socially-conscious photography, John Thomson's images breaking--sometimes radically--with prior models for depiction of the poor. But they have tended to regard it primarily as a book rather than a serial, and primarily as a book of photographs, not a publication in which text and image work in concert. This dissertation examines the vital contributions of both Adolphe Smith and John Thomson, combining close reading of images, text and sequencing throughout the serial publication to treat the work as a photo-text. It reinscribes the work within the contexts of both authors' overall careers, relates it to prior pictorial and literary models for representation of poverty, and demonstrates the roles of other players such as the publisher and critics in shaping the publication. Ultimately this study places Street Life in London within a matrix of Victorian discourses on poverty, photography, and typology, among others, demonstrating that it was contingent, conflicted, and ultimately incomplete: a flawed but fascinating commentary on the complex and multifarious Victorian era from which it emerged.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
History & Theory of Art