The Photographer

Our researcher colleague Gregor Murbach has now gathered nine direct references from the alpine plant hunting literature that point unambiguously to the photographer being The Rev H. P. Thompson (see bottom of this page).
As this identification has been a central issue throughout our researches we show these references in detail below.


1. (See image above left).
"Losnik was soon busy bargaining for a horse, while I took snapshots of the crowd".
H. P. Thompson. "Far South in Serbia". The Gardeners' Cronicle. Oct 1935. p. 304.

Our Archive Image file ref: 03-10.

2(a) & 2(b). (See image above center and above right).
"I got a good snapshot of three shepherds".

Our Archive Image file ref: 03-16.
"...and also found a crowd of sheep standing stolidly in a patch of snow".

Our Archive Image file ref: 03-11.
H. P. Thompson. "Far South in Serbia". The Gardeners' Chronicle. Oct 1935. p. 304.


"Big herds of sheep grazed nearby, guarded from wolves (and strange men) by ferocious dogs with spike-studded collars".
Center image above. H. P. Thompson "A Yugoslav Memory". Quarterly Bulletin of the Alpine Garden Society. Vol. 11. P 37. 1935.
Our Archive File ref: 03-05. (central image above).
Returned to our guide’s house, we found his wife and family all engaged in spinning, and all wearing most interesting costumes… They were Vlachs… and the most interesting dress was that of the eldest daughter, eighteen years old, and just married ; she wore a jacket of plum-coloured velvet, and her hair was made up into a wonderful structure with gold coins”.
(H.P. Thompson, “Far South in Serbia”, The Gardeners’ Chronicle, October 1935, p.338).
Our Archive File refs: 02-55 and 02-62. (far left image and far right images above).


Unfortuneately and somewhat misleadingly there is only one actual image of an expedition photographer in all the archive and its associated literature, this in a book subsequently written much later.
Hugh Roubiliac Roger-Smith's.“Plant Hunting in Europe” published in 1950 by Rush & Warwick. Bedford.
The Preface was by
Walter Ingwersen (see foot of page)*.
Below we show the Dust Jacket (left), and then to the right the book's B & W frontispiece. The upper frontispiece image has the legend "Dr Hugh Roger-Smith adding once more to his extensive collection of colour photographs, this time in the Pyrenees".
The camera is not visible, (used to take the photograph?). But note the the very modest tripod. This can only be for a light-weight camera, not a plate camera. Although the book was written and published much later, it does however contain one image from our archive's 1929 expedition (see below).


The slide collection consists of 244 standard British 3 x 3 inch lantern slides (82 mm x 82 mm). Standard use then for illustrating public lectures. These are double glass sided, image emulsion between, thin black paper tape along all four edges. We find it difficult to believe a plate camera would have been used during these remote  expeditions, and the one single image we have above (from Roger-Smith's book) implies a hand held camera.

[Aside: the first 35 mm film Leica prototypes were built by Oskar Barnack at the Ernst Leitz Optische Werke, Wetzlar, in 1913. Intended as a compact camera for landscape photography, particularly during mountain hikes, the Leica set the standard and was the first practical 35 mm camera that used standard cinema 35 mm film].
Also, in many images, the locals seem completely unaware of being photographed, unless posed, again supporting the idea of a discrete hand held folding camera (see comments below). The film rolls would then be stored for eventual processing on the expedition's return to the UK and then a darkroom format conversion into our lantern slides.


Interestingly, shown above is Plate 16 Page 69 from Roger-Smith's book "Plant Hunting in Europe". This  provided Gregor Murbach our researcher colleague, the elusive clue to unravelling the mystery of the archive.

This particular photograph ("The Hut and the Valley, Ljuboten". Our archive file ref no: 02-12) from the early 1930's and identically from the same negative, was not by Dr. Roger-Smith—accomplished plant photographer though he was, but was, in the book, attributed to his friend the Reverend Henry Paget Thompson (1880-1956). We discovered that the Reverend gentleman was, like Roger-Smith, a founder member of the Alpine Garden Society (founded in 1927) and that not only he, but his wife Maud was a member.

Roger-Smith, it finally emerged, authored thirty-five plant-hunting articles for the Alpine Garden Society and was the leader of many of the summer alpine plant hunting expeditions across the Balkans.

Shown below, we have the exquisite current view of this key image.
Image Credit: 
Moobooto M'gare / Google
Our archive file ref no: 02-12.


*Walter Ingwersen (1905-1990) a German of Danish descent, had founded a nursery in 1927 in the English town of East Grinstead. This nursery specialized in alpine plants and the family won several gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show in this category. In 2008, after 81 years in the business, the nursery was closed and sold by his son Paul.


There is only one image in the whole slide collection (and we know was taken in June 1935) that gives a possible clue to the photography equipment. Notice the white coated porter.
This is shown above left and then enlarged on the right. However, we now believe that the most likely identification is that these are the two plant specimen holders provided by Kew. This is because in an H. P. Thompson's subsequent lecture to The Horticultural Club, and written up as the article "Far South in Serbia" ("The Gardener's Chronicle" for October 26th. 1935. p. 303), we read: "Kew was anxious for anything that we could collect, and loaded us with two fat flower-presses, which came back duly filled."
Archive Image file ref: 03-59.


In conclusion we can say that, in a very real sense, our Rev. H. P. Thompson, 1880-1956 (seen above left as a young undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford. c 1900), was, quite unknowingly, a documentary photographer. We can view his photographs now as a form of magic, by which his moments of experience in remote locations were captured for transmission to us, and, by great good fortune, to future generations.
Photo Credits:
Left: The Governing Body of Christ Church College, Oxford.
Right: The Parish of Weybridge.

Note contributed on October 4th 2018


 John Marriage of Lyme Regis, www.refracted.net , writes in to bring to our attention that.......

“I have been reading further through your website, and thinking about the remarks about the camera or cameras the plant-hunters used …

 Now, the picture above, illustrated in “Plant Hunting in Europe” is captioned

“ … adding to his extensive collection of colour photographs, this time in the Pyrenees”.

So, colour; Kodachrome 35mm, was only available from September 1936, Agfacolour Neue a month or two later. The shot in the Pyrenees (in a 1950 book) was not from a Balkan trip, and the camera he was using was very probably 35mm then - but making 3 x 3 inch lantern slides from 35mm is not a particularly likely procedure in the early 1930s. 

 I suspect in the 1930s the photographer would be using a folding roll film camera and b/w film, if he wanted a light and portable solution. For plants, though, colour may have been desirable. Until the early 1930s all available colour materials were on glass plates. If they wanted good colour photographs of flowering plants, he would likely have used Autochrome. However, as this is a positive-working process producing transparencies, they would surely have used the original colour transparencies to illustrate their talks..?

 For colour, additive screen processes on film were available from about 1931 (Finlay, updated Autochrome, etc) - but that date doesn’t really work for the earlier Balkan trips.

 So, even though it is the only photographic reference we have,  I don’t think the photo in the 1950 book tells us anything about the equipment and materials used in the 1929-30 seasons, despite the book containing black & white images from that period. Photographers were hardy then, and they may well have been willing to transport a plate camera and plates, if the job required it. People had been doing that, up big mountains, for at least 70 years before these expeditions. However, as they were illustrating their talks in monochrome, that is probably how they took the pictures, in which case roll film is the most likely method”.

Thank You John.
[Reproduced above are three adverts for  B & W roll film contemporaneous with our travellers. Each dated at the top, and for the year 1929].
"The Photographic Collectors' Club of Great Britain".

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