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Rice boat on the Irrawaddy, Rangoon

Photographer: Philip Adolphe Klier (c.1845 - 1911)

'Helmsman on the stern of a ‘laung-zat’ or paddy boat on the Irrawaddy, Burma, late 1880s'

Trade – and photographers – followed the flag. The German photographer Philip Klier first appeared in Burma in the early 1870s, running a small studio and watchmaker’s shop. 

This was an old vessel used to transport rice down to Rangoon. The stern quarters were generally decorated with elaborate woodcarving, in this example an intricate design of flowers and foliage. Burma has a long tradition of woodcarving, at which its artisans excel both technically and aesthetically. 

The overthrow of the Burmese monarchy in 1885–6 and the extension of British control over the whole country, saw an influx of administrators, merchants and visitors into Upper Burma. The following decades saw the growth of Klier’s studio into one of the largest suppliers of photographic views of Burmese life and landscapes to this new market.

Albumen print

Published as Plate XVIII in Harry L. Tilly, Wood-Carving of Burma (Rangoon, 1903), where the author comments that the 'heavy bold carving of the steering chair…is admirably suited to stand the sunshine and rain of Burma, and is a good example of how the Burmese carve for their own pleasure'.

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