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'A man in a cart drawn by a donkey' by John Thomas

17 April 2024

Guest Post regarding the John Thomas collection held at the Library.

‘Golwg Ehangach’: Ffotograffau John Thomas o Gymru Oes Fictoria

Ruth Richards, (University of Wales Press)

This new study looks at the work of the Welsh photographer, John Thomas (1836- 1905) in the context of Victorian Wales and its Liberal, Nonconformist cuture. It offers a fresh interpretation of the photographer’s familiar images by setting them within the context of contemporary Welsh language literature and ideology. It argues, through a comparison with the prose of Daniel Owen, that Thomas adoped a novelist’s approach to his visual medium, allowing the various ‘voices’ and experiences of his sitters to combine and create a complex and comprehensive picture of his age, his culture and society. Thomas’s relationship with his editor, O. M. Edwards is also discussed at length, and it is argued that this relationship continues to complicate our understanding of the photographs.

The book aims to rebuild John Thomas’s artistic vision, which it argues was dismantled as a number of factors, including cultural insensitivity and a failure to accept photography as a valid medium, all conspired to cast a shadow over this remarkable photographer’s originality, perception and humour.

The originality of Thomas’s work is further highlighted through comparison with the later project, undertaken by the German avant-garde photographer August Sander (1876 -1964), to record all representatives of his age through the medium of photography. It is a comparision which, once again, reveals the innovation that underpinned the Welsh photographer’s wit and creativity.

Ruth Richards

Category: Article