Elephant laborers piling timber in one of the great riverside yards at Rangoon, Burma
Photographer: Underwood and Underwood
Medium: Photographic print
Stereoscopic pair of photographs of elephants at work in a timber yard at Rangoon (Yangon), in Burma (Myanmar), taken by Underwood & Underwood in c.1900. The photographs show an elephant lifting a baulk of teak, described in a detailed caption printed on the reverse: “…We see at work piling the teak logs four of the nine elephants on the payroll of the lumber company. The beasts seem almost human in their actions. They work quietly, silently and deftly, sorting and piling the great logs. The rider, perched aloft on a seat like a sawbuck, seems almost superfluous. The foremost elephant was captured full-grown in the forests and trained to his task in a year’s time. The pair at the farther end of the yard work together. One inserts his tusks beneath the log, wraps his trunk about it and lifts it high enough for the other to slip his tusks beneath one end. Then together they lift the log and stalk softly to the pile with it. And no man could arrange a neater, more symmetrical pile…Small need has Burma of steam or electric power when such mighty and willing laborers as these elephants are at hand to do the work of its mammoth lumber yards. The forests of Burma are the finest in British India, and from them great quantities of teak, cutch, ironwood and India rubber are exported. Some of the great teakwood logs here came from beyond Bhama, 900 miles up the Irrawaddy.” The photographs are from a collection of 36 stereoscopic views of Burma, one in a series of "stereoscopic tours" of foreign countries published as the ‘Underwood Travel Library’. Stereoscopic views became enormously popular from the mid-19th century onward as they enabled observers to imagine that they were really “touring” around distant parts of the world. Each pair of views, made using a special camera with two lenses, is mounted on stout card for insertion in a stereoscope or binocular viewer. This device creates the illusion of a single three-dimensional image in the mind of the observer by using the binocular function of human sight to combine the two images, which are seen from fractionally different viewpoints. The photographs in this set are generally of high quality and selected for their clarity and instructive value.