The Inmost Shrine
I feel like I should wear gloves when I read it.
I was initially intrigued by the historical significance of John Thomson’s photographic and literary chronicle of pre-republic China during the waning years of dynasty rule. After viewing and reading The Inmost Shrine I have taken away so much more from this extraordinary work. First, the images are stunning and capture a time and culture that is beyond imagination. I am so impressed with the consideration and ability of Levenger Press to incorporate new scanning technology to create such high quality digital reproductions of Thomson’s original images. In many instances pictures that originally were four on a page have been enlarged to occupy their own page. This allows one to study Thomson’s work in greater detail. They also leave the back of each photograph page blank I believe to eliminate any ill-effects from ink or type that could alter an image. I would often read Thomson’s narrative, flip to the photograph, then return to again read his description of the subject or scene. The presentation of this book, like so many of Levenger Press’s offerings, is so well conceived and executed that I find myself delicately handling every page. Levenger Press demonstrates great respect for the importance of Thomson’s work.
I then found myself in admiration of the author. For a person to travel to such a far place, that was so culturally different, carrying such burdensome and dangerous equipment is itself a remarkable tale. Facing cultural and language barriers combined with fear and hatred of Westerners by many Chinese had to be extremely challenging in the best circumstances. Thomson then used his camera, a large and menacing looking device back then, that many had never seen and often mistook as a form of dark magic. I suspect this explains the facial expressions on some of his subjects. I was curious about what John Thomson looked like and externally found a self-portrait of him while in China. His build and look truly set him apart from the Chinese.
I enjoyed this wonderful book for its amazing content and presentation. Though the original is a rare and archived work, you will find yourself delicately handling this quality piece as if it was from an archive. Bravo Levenger Press for bringing another great work back from obscurity for us to enjoy.
September 30, 2010
Quite a find
There have been other editions of Thomson's groundbreaking work in China, but none (so far as I know) in the last several decades. This one is remarkable, especially if kept close alongside other voulmes chronicling the extraordinary changes in China since 1910 and especially since WWII.
I think it's remarkable that Levenger chose to issue this volume. Congratulations to them. It's a bit of a departure--well, maybe a major diversion--from their central marketing line, but this edition (wish it were more widely marketed) is *invaluable* for those starting out in Asian or Chinese studies, or curious about a remarkable popular culture that's rapidly disappearing from the PRC's major cities. Great, great contribution. (I hope that you are marketing this to libraries, at least to University libraries.)
BTW, please note how central the Eastman family was in this initiative. Kodak is nothing like it was in the good ol' days of film, but if not for people like George Eastman, we would have lost forever some irreplaceable gems. People think Matthew Brady was the ultimate photojournalist: Thomson, his contemporary, was awfully close.
(Note: I am not am employee of Levenger, of Kodak, or any publisher, nor of any Chinese organization. I'm just an active avocationalist on pre-Republican China and its remarkable developments.)
December 16, 2009
Edinburgh Snapper Comes Good
What a delightful discovery: a brilliant combination of informative text, wonderful photos and production values. There's nothing quite like the 'feel' of an original volume but this is something else. High quality photography, printing, prose and portraits galore. John Thomson is a genuine discovery, a name hardly known in the photographic world let alone the world of photojournalism and its origins. People like Matthew Brady (American Civil War), Frank Sutcliffe (Yorkshire rural life) and Roger Fenton (Crimea war) are well-known pioneers of reportage. Please now add John Thomson (and thank Levenger Press via George Eastman) for showing what he did.
I was intrigued by the acute observations that Thomson made about China, his keen eye for everyday detail and his portraits of everyday people. Thomson writes with that directness and clarity that characterize Victorian writing about social events – and indeed natural history, in my experience. It’s a salutory lesson for today, where over-elaboration and poor expression masks meaning. Thomson would be thrilled to see his small photos blown-up to full page.
The simple backdrops used for the people photographs remind me of Avedon portraits - elegant, stark and revealing. Or maybe Avedon reminds us of Thomson? We should not under-estimate what Thomson has done in this book: shown how people lived, their dress and demeanour, where they lived and breathed and relaxed. Who else thought to photograph opium users and to reflect carefully on why they did this? There’s a careful artistry in the posing of people in natural settings and a wonderful humour in the way groups are organised. This was a man who thought carefully about taking photographs and honestly statest that he paid people to take part, as well as enduring physical and verbal attacks for ‘being British’.
I craved more information about the photographic techniques used by Thomson and more about the man himself. Please publish more volumes of Thomson’s work and make sure that the wider world knows about this artist and chronicler ot times past.
Makes me proud(er) to have been born in the same town as John Thomson and hugely admiring of what he achieved in remarkable times and circumstances. Bravo.
December 15, 2009
very disappointing quality of plates
First book on Thomson's life work also still contains far better plates
than those copied for the Levenger edition from the Eastman Museum copy of Thomson's 1873 work, because the plates in John
Thomson. A Window to the Orient (Thames and Hudson, 1985) were not only printed in duotone on coated paper but, more import-
antly, were printed from either original negatives or vintage prints of Thomson's China images in the Wellcome Institute in
England. The contrasts and clarity of plates in the White book put the plates in the expensive Levenger coffee table edition to shame. Fortunately, I own a copy of the White book and regret buying the Levenger edition now.
December 6, 2009
A most beautiful, impressive book
The cover alone is worth the price—that gorgeous Chinese-red and gold! Frankly, I’m surprised it costs only what it does. It looks like it would be much more, especially when you see the actual book.
I’ve never placed any books on our dining room table, as it’s a formal dining room, but this book has a place of honor on the dining room table.
October 23, 2009
The Inmost Shrine
This book is incredible! Whether you have been to the places depicted in Thomson's images or not, it is a fascinating documentation of a culture that continues to be intertwined with ours.
The large format makes it an especially wonderful gift.
October 13, 2009