Five syuds, prisoners en route from Jellalabad.
Photographer: Burke, John
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph showing soldiers of the British army escorting five prisoners, taken
near Jalalabad in Afghanistan by John Burke in 1878. The prisoners were lucky to have survived because in the harsh conditions and terrain of the Afghan Wars no quarter was given and prisoners taken, on both sides. Burke, best known for capturing military scenes made use of the opportunity to become the first significant photographer of the people and landscape of Afghanistan when he accompanied the Peshawar Valley Field Force during the Second Afghan War (1878-90). Despite being rejected for the role of official photographer, he financed his trip by advance sales of his photographs 'illustrating the advance from Attock to Jellalabad'. Coming to India as apothecary with the Royal Engineers, Burke turned professional photographer, assisting William Baker. Travelling widely in India, they were the main rivals to the better-known Bourne and Shepherd. Burke's two-year Afghan expedition produced an important visual document of the region where strategies of the Great Game were played out.
The Anglo-Russian rivalry (called the Great Game) precipitated the Second Afghan War. Afghanistan was of strategic importance to the British in the defence of their Indian Empire, and the prevention of the spreading influence of Russia. They favoured a Forward Policy of extending India's frontiers to the Hindu Kush and gaining control over Afghanistan. An opportunity presented itself when the Amir Sher Ali turned away a British mission while a Russian mission was visiting his court at Kabul. The British had demanded a permanent mission at Kabul which Sher Ali, trying to keep a balance between the Russians and British, would not permit.
British suspicions of the Amir's perceived susceptibility to the Russians led them to invade Afghanistan.