Specimen of the Wood Carving inside the Atoo-ma-shee or Incomparable Pagoda, [Mandalay]
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of a carved wooden panel in 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. The Atumashi monastery was erected in 1857 as one of the sacred buildings needed to consecrate Mandalay. Burmese monastery interiors were magnificently decorated with gilding, mirrored glass mosaic, and ornate woodcarvings, a traditional artform at which Burmese artisans excelled. Panels such as the one shown in this image consisted of intricately-carved foliage and flowers into which narratives from the Jataka tales and other figures from the Burmese Buddhist pantheon are entwined. A caption by Hooper accompanies the photograph: “The figures, scrolls, &c., are all carved out of solid logs of teak, the whole of the interior of this building is overlaid with gold-leaf. Glass chandeliers of European manufacture are hung round about the building in great numbers.” 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.