A picture illustrating the height to which the Crops grow round Mandalay
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of soldiers posing in a field of sorghum (called jowar in India) outside Mandalay in Burma (Myanmar), to illustrate the height to which crops grew, taken by Willoughby Wallace Hooper in 1886. The photograph is from a series documenting the Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885-86), published in 1887 as ‘Burmah: a series of one hundred photographs illustrating incidents connected with the British Expeditionary Force to that country, from the embarkation at Madras, 1st Nov, 1885, to the capture of King Theebaw, with many views of Mandalay and surrounding country, native life and industries’. Two editions were issued, one with albumen prints, one with autotypes, along with a set of lantern slides. Hooper made the series while serving as Provost Marshal with the British Expeditionary Force, which entered Mandalay, the Burmese royal capital, on 28 November 1885. King Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885) was deposed and taken prisoner, and a military occupation of the city began. The war culminated in the annexation of Upper Burma by the British on 1 January 1886 and the exile of Thibaw and Queen Supayalat to India. However Burmese resistance to British rule continued for several years after the annexation in the form of an armed struggle mounted by guerrillas known as dacoits. A caption by Hooper accompanying the print describes the implications of the scene: “It will be understood from this how great is the difficulty of carrying out any military operations against the Dacoits while the crops are standing, which is during the cold season, i.e., from November up to about the end of February. They approach under cover of these and make their raids, and if pursued, they fire a few shots and quickly regain their cover, where it is impossible to track them out, even cavalry being perfectly useless for that purpose. The grain is a kind of millet, called “Jowarree” in India, and growing 12 or 14 feet high. It is grown here in large quantities as fodder for the cattle and ponies.” Hooper was a dedicated amateur photographer and his photographs of the war in Burma are considered “one of the most accomplished and comprehensive records of a nineteenth century military campaign”. The series is also notable for the political scandal which arose following allegations by a journalist that Hooper had acted sadistically in the process of photographing the execution by firing squad of Burmese rebels. The subsequent court of inquiry concluded that he had behaved in a “callous and indecorous” way and the affair raised issues of the ethical role of the photographer in documenting human suffering and the conduct of the British military during a colonial war.