Phoongyees with Mendicant Pots in their hands going their rounds to receive the food given them by the charitably disposed, [Mandalay]
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of Buddhist monks or pongyis receiving food in Mandalay, 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 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’. Albums in 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 Burmese royal capital, on 28 November 1885. The Burmese king, Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885), was deposed and exiled to India and a military occupation of the city began. The war culminated in the annexation of Upper Burma by the British on 1 January 1886. Mandalay was founded in 1857 on the plain surrounding Mandalay Hill, an ancient sacred site, in fulfilment of a Buddhist prophecy that a religious centre would be created there. As a consequence of royal patronage, there were monasteries throughout the city and a large population of monks, for whom receiving food in their begging bowls as an act of charity was part of a daily ritual. A caption by Hooper accompanying the photograph describes the image: “…they do not solicit alms, but go down the street receiving whatever may be offered to them. In this case they are getting a contribution from a girl who, with another woman, probably her mother, is preparing food for sale in the middle of one of the streets.” 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.