SOAS University of London

Centre of South East Asian Studies

John Thomson: Reframing Materials, Images, and Archives


Date: 7 June 2018Time: 9:00 AM

Finishes: 7 June 2018Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Wellcome Trust Gibbs Building, 215 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE

Type of Event: Symposium

John Thomson’s (1837-1921) large surviving archive has helped to secure his place in the canon of British photography. The archive includes some 600 negatives at the Wellcome collection, as well as an extensive list of published works, surviving glass-plate negatives, cartes de visites, and album prints. With the archive generating interest in Thomson’s photographs as historical and cultural documents, discourse on Thomson’s work remains largely tied to the perceived indexical values of his photographs. This Study Day aims to expand approaches to this unique body of work.

This event is organised in conjunction with the 2018 exhibition at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS (April-June 2018), Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872: China, Siam and Angkor.

Academics, curators and practitioners will present research and engage in discussion around four specific key themes: The Interrelation and Interaction of Making, Translating and Transforming Images into Objects, Reading and Reframing of Images - Issues of the Archive, and Constructing and Conceptualising East and Southeast Asia. As such, this Study Day will provide an opportunity to contextualise and stimulate new research questions around the materiality and visuality of photography. These discussions also have wider implications within the scholarship of photography across the fields of Art History, Anthropology, Visual and Material Cultures, History, Architecture and Dress History.

Key Note Speaker: Dr. Roberta Wue (Associate Professor of Art History, University of California, Irvine)

Key Note Lecture: “Pagodas, Paintings, and Produce: John Thomson and Chinese Things”

Panel 1. The Interrelation and Interaction of Making

This panel addresses the concept of making. By this we mean to consider and investigate the relationship between photographic technologies and the historiography of visual representation.

Panel 2. Translating and Transforming Images into Objects

This panel addresses the materiality of photography and its relationship to the dichotomous qualities of ephemerality and permanence.

Panel 3. Reading and Reframing of Images - Issues of the Archive

The aim of this panel is to uncover alternative frameworks in the response and use of the ‘photographic archive’. We encourage interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the cultural constructs hidden within such archives. Panellists are invited to engage with different methodological approaches in the reading of photographs, both singular and in collections, and to elaborate on issues raised.

Panel 4. Constructing and Conceptualising East and Southeast Asia

The aim of this panel is to consider how different types of visual schema (including sketching, drawing and photography) of specific sites in Asia have participated in conceptualisations of heritage and modernity, often engendering ‘pre-modern Asia’.

Registration opens at 8:30 am, with a keynote talk at 9:00. The exhibition at the Brunei Gallery is open until 8 pm on this day. The Study Day is open to all, but registration is essential. Please register here.

For information about the exhibition, please visit

This event is made possible by: The Sir Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, SOAS China Institute, SOAS Centre of Southeast East Asia Studies (CSEAS), Birkbeck History of Art Department, The Wellcome Collection, the Sino-British Fellowship Trust and the Professor Gungwu Wang Grant.

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