John Thomson (14 June 1837 – 29 September 1921) was a pioneering Scottish photographer, geographer and traveller. He was one of the first photographers to travel to the Far East, documenting the people, landscapes and artifacts of eastern cultures. Upon returning home, his work among the street people of London cemented his reputation, and is regarded as a classic instance of social documentary which laid the foundations for photojournalism. He went on to become a portrait photographer of High Society in Mayfair, gaining the Royal Warrant in 1881.
The son of William Thomson, a tobacco spinner and retail trader, and his wife Isabella, Thomson was born the eighth of nine children in Edinburgh in the year of Queen Victoria’s accession. After his schooling in the early 1850s, he was apprenticed to a local optical and scientific instrument manufacturer, thought to be James Mackay Bryson. During this time, Thomson learned the principles of photography and completed his apprenticeship around 1858.
During this time he also undertook two years of evening classes at the Watt Institution and School of Arts (formerly the Edinburgh School of Arts, later to become Heriot-Watt University). He received the “Attestation of Proficiency” in Natural Philosophy in 1857 and in Junior Mathematics and Chemistry in 1858. In 1861 he became a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts, but by 1862 he had decided to travel to Singapore to join his older brother William, a watchmaker and photographer.