Book of the month

22 Feb 2024

Through Cyprus with the Camera in the Autumn of 1878 by John Thomson. A note on John Thomson by Ialeen Gibson Cowan, 1985, Trigraph Limited.

Through Cyprus with the Camera in the Autumn of 1878 by John Thomson.

A note on John Thomson by Ialeen Gibson Cowan, 1985, Trigraph Limited.

In the features of this old dame, who earns her living by selling bread in Larnaca, there still linger traces of youthful comeliness. Her thin locks are silvered with age, and the years, as they dragged heavily along, have furrowed her brow. Yet her eye is clear and bright, and wears a look of calm contentment”

John Thomson (1837 - 1921) was an innovative Scottish photographer and traveler. Among the first to explore the Far East. Thomson documented Eastern cultures, capturing their people, landscapes and artifacts with his lens.

In 1878, John Thomson was among the first European travelers to explore Cyprus during its transition from Ottoman rule to British administration. This marked a significant turning point that elevated the island's global importance. Thomson's lens captured the juxtapositions of cultures, religions, and architectural styles that defined the romantic allure of the old Levant for nineteenth-century Europeans.

“Through Cyprus with the Camera in the Autumn of 1878” tells a captivating story into the historical and cultural tapestry of Cyprus during a pivotal period in its history. Thomson, an accomplished photographer, takes readers on a visual journey through the island, that skillfully captures the essence of a neglected province suddenly thrust into international prominence.

The vivid imagery presented in the book depicts lush gardens and idyllic lamdscapes, painting a picture of a land with a rich and diverse history. Thomson, also, skillfully describes the Cypriot flora and atmospheric perspectives, allowing readers to visualize the natural beauty that, according to his optimistic predictions, could yield substantial returns for labor and capital.

Thomson's photographs not only document the physical landscape but also serve as a lens into the society and culture of Cyprus. Minarets and church towers, Gothic arcades and palm trees, camels and Venetian fortresses the eclectic blend of influences that characterized the island during this transformative period. Through his affectionate and realistic portrayal of the men “[…] the modern Cypriote has inherited the attributes of his ancestors. He is strong and nimble, affable and courteous, and has a frame whose power and development would adorn the ranks of the finest regiment” and women “Their complexions are generally fair, though bronzed by exposure, their features regular, and the colour of their hair varies from light brown to black” of Cyprus, his text complements the images and offers insights inspired by a genuine appreciation for the people and the spirit of the island. “A friendly disposed crowd of spectators had gathered around the mosque to witness the process of photographing the exterior of the building, and while pious moslems held themselves aloof, a large number of native Greeks volunteer to sit for their portraits. Those selected were deemed fair specimens of the inhabitants of Nicosia.” Thomson's lens captured the spirit of a moment frozen in time, creating a valuable historical document that transcends the limitations of its era.

In the closing pages of ‘’Through Cyprus with the Camera in the Autumn of 1878,’’ Thomson's adept photography immortalizes a region at moments change, thus making this book, a noteworthy contribution to travel literature and photographic documentation, summarizing a valuable and enriching exploration of the island's evolving cultural and historical tapestry.

You can find this book, and many more, in the Research Centre of the CVAR.

The 'Book Of The Month' series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus).

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