Phoongyees travelling on board one of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company's steamers from Mandalay to Lower Burmah
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of Buddhist monks or pongyis on board an Irrawaddy Flotilla Company river steamer travelling from Mandalay to Lower 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’. The series was issued as an album in two editions (one with albumen prints, one with autotypes) and as a set of lantern slides. Hooper took the images while serving as Provost Marshal with the British Expeditionary Force, which entered Mandalay, the Burmese royal capital, on 28 November 1885. A caption by Hooper accompanies the photograph: “The principal figure in the picture, seated on his bed, is engaged in profound meditation, his goods and chattels are around him; on the extreme left may be seen the fan, made from the leaf of the Palmyra, which he usually carries in his hand when abroad to protect him from the heat of the sun; just above the square basket (contents not known) is his ‘bible;’ two small figures of Gautama can be seen behind him; under his bed is a gong with his sandals close to it; the earthen vessel containing his drinking water, with a lacquer cup over it, and the mendicant’s pot with his food, are in the centre of the foreground.” 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.