East face of the City Walls with Mandalay Hill in the distance, taken from the East Gate
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of the east face of the city walls of Mandalay in Burma (Myanmar), with Mandalay Hill in the distance, taken by Willoughby Wallace Hooper in 1886. The photograph is from a series documenting the Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885-86) and its aftermath, published in 1887 as ‘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, 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 royal capital, on 28 November 1885. King Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885) was deposed and taken prisoner, and a military occupation took place in the city. The war culminated in the annexation of Upper Burma by the British on 1 January 1886 and the exile of Thibaw and Queen Supayalat to India. Mandalay was founded in 1857 near Mandalay Hill, an ancient sacred site, in fulfilment of a Buddhist prophecy. It was built in the form of a perfectly square fortress surrounded by a wide moat, with the palace inside an inner enclosure at its heart. The crenellated brick walls were each nearly 2 km (1.2 miles) in length. They were crowned at intervals with carved wooden spires known as pyatthat and embanked with earth inside to fortify them further. A caption accompanying the photograph describes the image, taken from the main entrance to the city, the East Gate: “Lying on the berm near the first zyat is a war canoe. These boats are beautifully constructed, in many cases gilded; they are manned by 50 or 60 rowers.” 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.