The right bank of the Irrawaddy above Sagain, opposite to Ava
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of pagodas on the riverbank of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) above Sagaing and opposite 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. Sagaing is situated on the west bank of the Irrawaddy, opposite the ruined royal city of Ava and a short distance south of Mandalay. In c.1315 it was the capital of a Shan kingdom, after the fall of Bagan. Today there are around 600 Buddhist monasteries as well as numerous temples, stupas and caves dedicated to the Buddha in its hills and valleys and it is widely regarded as the religious centre of Burma. A caption by Hooper accompanies the photograph: “The river bank here is exceedingly picturesque: the undulating low hills, covered with scrub jungle, run close down to the water’s edge, and are studded with hundreds of Pagodas and Kyoungs, some of them white and others gilded. Flights of white steps lead up to those on the summits of the hills, and the many tamarind trees and various kinds of palms add greatly to the beauty of the scene.” 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.