Another village scene, [in Upper Burma], shewing the next process to which the rice is subjected before it is fit for cooking
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of women husking 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, which follows on from the previous image in the collection [photo 312/(89)], showing oxen treading rice to separate the grain from the chaff: “Another village scene, shewing the next process to which the rice is subjected before it is fit for cooking. The grain, after it has been trodden out, is covered with a husk, and to remove this it is placed, by small quantities at a time, in a kind of mortar made from a smoothly hollowed out block of wood, the pestle at the end of a long beam or lever is worked, as seen in the picture, by a woman alternately pressing down the other end with her foot and releasing it.”
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.