A Burmese Police Guard at Mandalay
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of a Burmese police guard at Mandalay 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 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’. An album in two editions (one with albumen prints, one with autotypes) and as a set of lantern slides were issued. Hooper took the images while serving as Provost Marshal with the British Expeditionary Force, which entered Mandalay, the Burmese royal capital, on 28 November 1885, beginning an occupation of the city. The Burmese king, Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885), was deposed and exiled to India and the war culminated in the annexation of Upper Burma by the British on 1 January 1886. A caption by Hooper accompanies the photograph: “Of the efficiency of these men not very much can be said at present. At the time this picture was taken they had not long been organized, and there was much room for improvement; they had a somewhat picturesque, though not a very formidable, appearance; they were armed with some of Theebaw’s old muskets, which on the occurrence of any dacoity [robbery] or row near at hand, they promptly let off, thereby, at all events, producing a moral effect which did no harm…they will doubtless be of value in quelling disturbances when once the country is fairly in our hands.” 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.