William Saunders (photographer)

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William Thomas Saunders (1832–1892)[1] was a British-born photographer who settled in China and became one of the main commercial photographers there, in the nineteenth century.

Life and career[edit]

Execution scene photographed by Saunders and published in the 1870s

Born in Britain in 1832, William Saunders opened one of Shanghai's first photography studios in January 1862. Although chiefly a portrait photographer, Saunders' fascination with China led him to photograph current events, local scenery and the local population.[2]

Although many of Saunders' scenes of everyday Chinese life were posed due to limitations of photographic processes, they provide accurate reflections of life in nineteenth century China, and contributed to the spreading of knowledge of Chinese customs and traditions throughout the West.[3]


A selection of William Saunders' photographs was published in an early series of 50 prints published in 1871 as a Portfolio of Sketches of Chinese Life and Character.[4] Saunders also contributed regularly to Western publications such as the Far East and the Illustrated London News. He also photographed local ports in China and Japan, including Yokohama where he settled for three months in August 1862. Many of his prints, especially scenes of execution, were considered as being timeless and were used decades later to illustrate current events.[3]

William Saunders' photographs were very popular throughout China where they were sold by other photographers. His photographs are characteristic in their rectangular shape with rounded corners and oval vignettes.[2]


  1. ^ "The Far East: A Monthly Journal Illustrated With Photographs". The Metropolitan Museum. Retrieved 2008-08-28. 
  2. ^ a b "Biographies". Antiq-Photo Rainbow Creations. Retrieved 2008-08-28. 
  3. ^ a b Thiriez, Régine (December 2002). "The 19th Century Photograph as a reflection of reality". IAO: Institut d'Asie Orientale. Retrieved 2008-08-28. 
  4. ^ "Exhibitions of the Royal Photographic Society 1870-1915; 1871: all exhibits". De Montfort University. Retrieved 2008-08-28.