Exhibition Title: Siam – Through the Lens of John Thomson 1865–66
Duration: 21 February 2020 to 3 January 2021
Location: Chester Beatty (Dublin Castle), Dublin, Ireland
Born in Edinburgh in 1837, the photographer and writer John Thomson travelled to Asia in 1862. Over the next ten years he undertook numerous journeys across the region, spending almost a year in the kingdom of Siam (modern Thailand). During this time, Thomson was granted unique access to the court of King Mongkut (r. 1851-68). Also known as Rama IV, Mongkut was a progressive monarch. Sincerely interested in Western ideas and sciences, he was keen to exploit the relatively new technology of photography.
The photographs Thomson took in Siam include portraits and palace scenes, religious ceremonies, architecture and cityscapes. Thomson also received special permission to visit Angkor Wat (then under Siam’s control), becoming the first to photograph its famous ruins. On his return to Britain in 1872, Thomson brought with him more than 600 glass plate negatives. This unique archive reveals the range, depth and aesthetic quality of Thomson’s photographic vision.