A group of Shans, taken at Bhamo
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of a group of Shans, taken at Bhamo in Burma (Myanmar) 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’. Two editions were issued (one with albumen prints, one with autotypes) and a set of lantern slides. Hooper made the series while serving as Provost Marshal with the British Expeditionary Force, which under the command of General Prendergast entered Mandalay, the Burmese royal capital, on 28 November 1885, and then took Bhamo on 28 December. Bhamo, situated in Kachin State in the hills of Burma’s far north, is the closest and most accessible point to China. A caption by Hooper accompanies the photograph: “These tribes inhabit the mountainous country to the east of Upper Burma. The men are of a much more powerful physique than the Burmese; they, and more especially their women, are of a fairer complexion, some of them having quite a ruddy tinge on their cheeks. They seem to be a very independent tribe, and are much more manly than the Burmese. The large hats which they wear are constructed of very finely woven grass. They also wear at times a stiff umbrella-like covering to their heads, made of leaves and bamboo.” 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.