Signalling Station at Ava
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of a signalling station built on an unfinished stupa at Ava (Inwa) 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, 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 war culminated in the annexation of Upper Burma by the British on 1 January 1886 and the exile of King Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885) and Queen Supayalat to India. Ava is a ruined royal city situated at the confluence of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) and Myitnge rivers a short distance south of Mandalay. It was founded in the 14th century as the capital of a Shan kingdom, later becoming the capital of the Burmese empire from the early 17th century until replaced by Amarapura in 1783, then again briefly between 1823 and 1841. A caption by Hooper accompanying the photograph describes the image: “This is the base of an unfinished Pagoda, and is now used as a signalling station, being in direct communication with the Hill at Mandalay. It is near the south end of the city, which is now nothing more than a village overgrown with jungle. Pagan was destroyed in A.D. 1284, after which a new dynasty arose in Ava, where they maintained their supremacy throughout the 17th and part of the 18th centuries. The Taleens then revolted and took Ava. In 1753 Alompra took possession of Ava, and 30 years afterwards, in 1783, the capital was moved to Amarapura, and Ava fell into ruins.” 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.