A village scene in Upper Burmah, shewing oxen treading out the corn
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of oxen treading rice in a village in Upper 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 were issued in two editions, 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. A caption by Hooper accompanying the photograph describes the image: “The paddy, or rice in the ear, is spread out on a smoothly prepared surface, and two or three yoke of oxen, held by a man in the centre, are kept walking round and round upon it till the grain is separated from the ear; the straw is then removed, and the grain is swept together with a broom such as that seen leaning against the platform in front of the house. The primitive cart partly shewn on the right is that used for carrying the straw…” 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.