An immense Pyah or basement built by King Mintaya Gyee at Mengoon, with the intention of erecting a Pagoda on it which should be the highest building in the world...[Mingun Pagoda]
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of the Mingun Pagoda at Mingun in Burma (Myanmar), 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. The war culminated in the annexation of Upper Burma by the British on 1 January 1886 and the exile of King Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885) and Queen Supayalat to India. Mingun, 11 kms from Mandalay on the opposite bank of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) is best known for its immense and incomplete pagoda begun by King Bodawpaya (ruled 1782-1819) who founded Amarapura. He intended it to be the tallest Buddhist monument in the world, rising to a height of 150 ms, but died in 1819 before it could be finished. This photograph gives a view of the massive pagoda (purportedly the largest mass of brickwork in the world) showing the cracks and splits caused by the damaging 1838 earthquake. A caption by Hooper accompanies the photograph: “…an earthquake, however, cracked the huge pile of solid brickwork before it was finished, and nothing more was done. It is 450 ft. square and 155 ft. high.” 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.