Interior of the Kootoo-ma-shee [Atumashi] or Incomparable Pagoda, [Mandalay], shewing the image of Gautama
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of the interior of the Atumashi Kyaung (Incomparable Monastery) 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 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, and a set of lantern slides. Hooper made the series while serving as Provost Marshal with the British Expeditionary Force, which entered Mandalay, the Burmese royal capital, on 28 November 1885. King Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885) was deposed and taken prisoner, and a military occupation of the city began. Mandalay was founded in 1857 by King Mindon Min (reigned 1853-78) on a site close to Mandalay Hill, an ancient sacred mount, in fulfilment of a Buddhist prophecy that a religious centre would be created there. As a consequence of royal patronage, there were pagodas and monasteries throughout the city. The Atumashi monastery was erected by Mindon Min in 1857 as one of the sacred buildings needed for the consecration of Mandalay. It stood next to the Kuthodaw Pagoda, another royal meritorious work, at the foot of Mandalay Hill. Instead of the traditional pyatthat spire, it had an unusual design of five graduated terraces of timber covered with ornately carved and moulded white stucco, creating the impression of a rectangular pyramid. The monastery was burnt down and left in ruins by a fire in 1890 but has recently been reconstructed to a new design. A caption by Hooper accompanies the photograph: “The interior of this building is gorgeous in the extreme, it being entirely overlaid with gold leaf and decorated with pieces of looking-glass. The figure, which is of immense size, is also covered with gold; it used to have a large and valuable ruby in the centre of the forehead, but this gem disappeared about the time of our taking possession.” 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.