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musicians and dancers in Siam

THOMSON, JOHN. Dancers and Musicians in Siam

Siam, 1865

Albumen print (7 1/2 x 9 1/4 in.), mounted, titled “Siamese Theatricals” on mount. Signed in one negative “J. Thomson.” Minor fading. Near fine.

This splendid photograph shows costumed dancers and musicians posed in the middle of a performance. The hands of the two dancers at the center are about to meet in a clap, and the drummer raises a stick to strike his drum. A thatched roof building and palms are in the background.

“A troupe of twenty-six dancers and musicians, some with elaborate costumes and masks: fifteen are girls, seven boys, and four men. In the background is a traditional bamboo house with a pandanus thatched roof together with sugar cane and banana trees. Fifteen of those present are lakhon performers. Eleven of them are on the left (one standing resting a sword on her shoulder, four seated along an rattan chair, and six kneeling behind the musicians), two sit on the floor in the centre, and two on the seat on the right. The six khon performers perform a scene from the Ramakien, derived from the Ramayana. They include (centre) a yaksha (giant) fighting with Phra Ram; to the right of them, two other yakshas; seated on the seat to right, Tosakanth, the demon king; and far right, possibly Indrachit, one of the sons of Tosakanth. In front are four musicians and a child. For further details see Paisarn Piemmettawat, loc. cit.” (Wellcome Institute Library).

John Thomson was “a towering figure in nineteenth-century photography” (Bennett) and the foremost photographer of Asia in the nineteenth century. In 1865, having read of the discovery of Angkor in Cambodia, Thomson sailed to Bangkok to obtain the permission of King Mongkut of Siam to travel into Cambodia’s interior. While in Bangkok, Thomson made photographs of the king, his court, and other scenes.

This arresting image is a rare print. The original negative is at the Wellcome Institute Library.

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