A Well in the suburbs of Mandalay, near the Fish Market
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of a well near the fish market in the suburbs of Mandalay, 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 under the title ‘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’. Albums in 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 Burmese king, Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885), was deposed and exiled to India and a military occupation of the city began. The war culminated in the annexation of Upper Burma by the British on 1 January 1886. Founded in 1857 to replace Amarapura as capital, Mandalay was built as a huge square citadel surrounded by a moat, beyond which lay the city suburbs. A caption by Hooper accompanying the photograph describes the image: “These wells are of considerable depth, and the water is drawn by the women in small waterproof wicker-work baskets by means of a pulley attached to the beam above the well; some of these are very finely carved, as is the one here represented. These spots are great gossiping resorts for the young women, and the passer by will often see a group of bright, merry-looking girls chattering and laughing together, and seemingly in no hurry to go back to their household duties.” 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.