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View up the Irrawaddy from Bhamo

View up the Irrawaddy from Bhamo

Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1886

Shelfmark: Photo 312/(72)

Item number: 31272

Length: 10.1

Width: 14.7

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River at Bhamo 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 commanded by General Prendergast, which entered Mandalay, the Burmese royal capital, on 28 November 1885, and then took Bhamo on 28 December. The war culminated in the exile of King Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885) and Queen Supayalat to India, followed by the annexation of Upper Burma by the British on 1 January 1886. Bhamo, situated in Kachin State in the hills of Burma’s far north, is the closest and most accessible point to China. The Irrawaddy is Burma's great river which traverses the country from north to south. A caption by Hooper accompanies the photograph: “The river at this part is broad, though shallow at times and rather difficult to navigate on account of the numerous sandbanks. A short distance below Bhamo is second defile, where the river has cut its way through a range of hills, and here the scenery is lovely in the extreme. At this point the river is not much more than 100 yards broad, but, on account of its great depth, which has never yet been ascertained, it glides through without a ripple on its surface. On the right bank is a limestone cliff rising perpendicularly some hundreds of feet from the water; its sides are clothed with the most luxuriant ferns and orchids and festooned with creepers. At one point is a small pagoda half buried in the surrounding foliage. The high banks on the opposite side are clothed with forest trees, palms, tree-ferns, and many lovely varieties of tropical vegetation.” 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.

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