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Image of 'Covent Garden Labourers.'

Covent Garden Labourers

After establishing himself as a photographer of exotic locales—from Cyprus to China—Thomson returned to Britain in 1872. Influenced by the radical journalist Adolphe Smith, whom he met in 1866 at the Royal Geographic Society, Thomson began contributing images to the monthly magazine Street Life in London (1876–77).

This scene of a group of men working for Mr. Dickson, a well-known florist at the Covent Garden Flower, Fruit, and Vegetable Market, was accompanied by the caption: “It is in the early morning that they congregate in this spot, and they are soon scattered to all parts of the metropolis, laden with plants of every description.” Thomson’s un-romanticized images of the lower class not only opened the government’s eyes to the need for social reform, but they also heralded the beginnings of photojournalism.

John Thomson
Scottish (active in the Far East and in London), 1837–1921
Covent Garden Labourers from Street Life in London
Image/sheet: 4 ½ x 3 3/8 in. (11.4 x 8.6 cm); mount: 10 5/8 x 8 3/16 in. (27.1 x 20.7 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 78.2.5