A Manchu bride  by John ThomsonChina: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-72

Merseyside Maritime Museum, Albert Dock
5th February - 1st June 2010

Reviewed by Sebastien Gahan

You can tell a good exhibition from the comments in the guest book. China Through The Lens of John Thomson 1868-72 is no exception. The first comment I saw on opening it was written thus:

"This is amazing. It's a shame the air-con is so loud."

Yes, the air con was quite noisy, but for me it did nothing to dim the brilliance of this fascinating and obviously well-attended exhibition. In all respects, John Thomson's painstakingly created photography was - and is - amazing. When one considers that the people we see in these photos were alive almost one hundred and forty years ago, you really have to examine the importance of the camera in all of our lives. The most effective images were those showing ordinary people and landscapes, notably 'The Reconstructing of the City of Nanjing' and 'The Magic Lantern'.

The fact that these images are essentially honest and untouched by any of the modern tools is very appealing, and the effect of this is to make you appreciate the gift of photography for what it actually is. That being - in this exhibition - an endlessly fascinating human study that covers all the classes including mandarins, lords, servants and women, that shows so much in just a single shot and undoubtedly gives credence to the much quoted epithet that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Should you pay this exhibition a visit? The answer to that question is entirely positive. Not only will you learn something about a culture somewhat visually different from our own modern world - yet entirely human like us all - you'll be able to see a collection of images that tell a story all by themselves. There's taking a photo, and there's work like this. Pay a visit before it closes in June!

Printer friendly page

Sorry Comments Closed