“Tickets” The Card-Dealer. Thompson, John  (British, 1837-1921)

One of the first examples of social documentary photography. Gernsheim

Street Life in London was published in twelve installments throughout 1877 and the beginning of 1878. Three of Thomson’s photographs appeared in each edition with three stories mainly written by the journalist Adolphe Smith, who held reformist views and worked as the official interpreter for the The Trades Union Congress (TUC) – a national trade union center, a federation of trade unions that collectively represent the majority of unionized workers in England and Wales from 1886 to 1905. With social problems gaining increased attention in the 1870s through the work of such men as Charles Dickens and the founder of homes for destitute children, Dr Barnado, these vignettes of survival among the poor proved popular with the public. The hopes and aspirations, values and needs of those portrayed were recognizable to the readers of other classes. The photographs added a graphic realism to the stories.[1] The 12 installments were published in a single volume in 1878.

As Thomson himself writes: The precision and accuracy of photography enables us to present true types of the London poor and shield us from the accusation of either underrating or exaggerating individual peculiarities of appearance. It is “a pioneering work of social documentation in photographs and words … one of the most significant and far-reaching photobooks in the medium’s history” (Parr & Badger). Also published as Street Incidents. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington. Street Incidents comprises everything from Street Life, both text and photographs, following page 44. The only changes would appear to be additional plate numbers below captions, as well as page numbers above the images. It would seem likely that the publisher had a remainder of the latter portion of Street Life, and reissued what was available with a new title, without credit to Thomson, as a new work. The images in Street Incidents comprise: A Convict’s Home; The Wall Worker; Covent Garden Labourers; Halfpenny Ices; Black Jack; The Cheap Fish of St. Giles; Cast-iron Billy; Worker’s on the “Silent Highway”; The Street Fruit Trade; The London Boardmen; The Water-cart; “Mush-Fakers” and Ginger-Beer Makers; November Effigies; “Hookey Alf ” of Whitechapel; The Crawlers; Italian Street Musicians; The Street Locksmith; The Seller of Shell-fish; Flying Dustmen; Old Furniture; The Independent Shoeblack.

"Tickets" The Card-Dealer was only in the first edition.

Reproduced / Exhibited

V&A PH.329-1982
Princeton University Art Museum x1982-349.15
Art Institute of Chicago 2012.234.7
ToMuSo 20106590


[1] Stephen White, ‘John Thomson‘, Thames & Hudson, 1985.
Gernsheim, p. 447
Truthful Lens no 169
Parr & Badger I: p.48.