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Exhibition: ‘Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington Part 1

Exhibition dates: 21 September 2014 – 4th January 2015

 

To my mind, Captain Linnaeus Tripe is one of the best of the Victorian photographers.

So early on in the history of photography, for such a short period of time (much like Julia Margaret Cameron in this regard), Tripe’s photographs are so much more than just his foresight in recognizing that photography could be an effective tool for conveying information about unknown cultures and regions. As noted, “Tripe’s schooling as a surveyor, where the choice of viewpoint and careful attention to visual details were essential, gave his photographs their distinctive aesthetic rigor.” But it is more than just tools and trade. There is that indefinable magic of a master artist.

You only have to feel the impressive space of the open deck of Quarterdeck of HMS “Impregnable” (1852-1854, below) with that pendulous cross-beam pressing down from on high or understand the light in Pugahm Myo: Distant View of Gauda-palen Pagoda, August 20-24, 1855 (below) – how gorgeous is that image – and observe the subtleties of composition in seemingly unprepossessing vistas like Tsagain Myo: View near the Irrawadi River, August 29-30, 1855 and Tsagain Myo: A Roadway, August 29-30, 1855 (below) to understand what inspiration and insight this man had.

I could look at these images every day of my life and never get bored with them.

Marcus

 

Many thankx to the National Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Most of the text underneath the images is from the British Library website.
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“The dynamic vision Tripe brought to these large, technically complex photographs and the lavish attention he paid to their execution indicate that his aims were artistic as well.”

 

 

Linnaeus Tripe. 'Gun Wharf - Devonport' 1852-1854

 

Linnaeus Tripe
Gun Wharf – Devonport
1852-1854
23.1 × 33 cm (9 1/8 × 13 in.)
Wilson Centre for Photography, London

 

Linnaeus Tripe. 'Quarterdeck of HMS "Impregnable",' 1852-1854

 

Linnaeus Tripe
Quarterdeck of HMS “Impregnable”
1852-1854
27 x 34.8 cm (10 5/8 x 13 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
The Sarah and William L Walton Fund, Diana and Mallory Walker Fund, and The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

Linnaeus Tripe. 'Ye-nan-gyoung: Tamarind Tree, August 14-16, 1855' 1855

 

Linnaeus Tripe
Ye-nan-gyoung: Tamarind Tree, August 14-16, 1855
1855
26.3 × 34.7 cm (10 3/8 × 13 5/8 in.)
Courtesy Robert Hershkowitz, Charles Isaacs, Hans P. Kraus Jr.

 

Photograph by Linnaeus Tripe of a tamarind tree, with a pagoda on the hillside in the background, at Yenangyaung in Burma (Myanmar), from a portfolio of 120 prints. Tripe was the official photographer attached to a British diplomatic mission to King Mindon Min of Burma in 1855. This followed the British annexation of Pegu after the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852. Aside from official duties, the mission was instructed to gather information regarding the country and its people. Tripe’s architectural and topographical views are of great documentary importance as they are among the earliest surviving photographs of Burma. Yenangyaung was a town in west-central Myanmar on the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy), the centre of the most productive oil-fields in the country. Tamarind is commonly used in Burmese cuisine and the tamarind tree is widespread in Burma. It is also used as raw material in joss-stick production.

 

Linnaeus Tripe. 'Pugahm Myo: Distant View of Gauda-palen Pagoda, August 20-24, 1855' 1855

 

Linnaeus Tripe
Pugahm Myo: Distant View of Gauda-palen Pagoda, August 20-24, 1855
1855
25.3 × 34.1 cm (10 × 13 3/8 in.)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Purchase, The Buddy Taub Foundation, Dennis A. Roach and Jill Roach, Directors, and Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2012
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Photograph by Linnaeus Tripe with a distant view of the Gawdawpalin temple in the Pagan (Bagan) region of Burma (Myanmar), from a portfolio of 120 prints. With this portfolio of architectural and topographical views, Tripe, an officer from the Madras Infantry, created an early photographic record of Burma. The 1855 British Mission to Burma was instructed to persuade the Burmese king Mindon Min to accept the annexation of Pegu (Lower Burma) following the Anglo-Burmese War of 1852. ICapital of the first kingdom of Burma from the 11th to the 14th century, Pagan is one of the most important archaeological sites in South East Asia, with the remains of over 2000 stupas, temples and monasteries scattered over a 30 km radius. One of the most beautiful and graceful of Pagan’s temples, the Late Period Gawdawpalin or Throne of Obeisance was begun in the reign of Narapatisithu (1174-1211) and completed by Nadaungmya (ruled 1211-34). Tripe wrote, “Taken from the top of Thapinyu. [That-byin-nu]. The ruins of all shapes and sizes seen in this view, give an idea of the manner in which they are scattered for about eight miles along the river [the Irrawaddy], to a depth of sometimes three miles.”

 

Linnaeus Tripe. 'Pugahm Myo: Thapinyu Pagoda, August 20-24, 1855' 1855

 

Linnaeus Tripe
Pugahm Myo: Thapinyu Pagoda, August 20-24, 1855
1855
25.1 × 34.5 cm (9 7/8 × 13 5/8 in.)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Purchase, The Buddy Taub Foundation, Dennis A. Roach and Jill Roach, Directors, and Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2012
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Photograph by Linnaeus Tripe of the That-byin-nu temple in the Pagan (Bagan) region of Burma (Myanmar), from a portfolio of 120 prints. With this portfolio of architectural and topographical views, Tripe, an officer from the Madras Infantry, created an early photographic record of Burma. The 1855 British Mission to Burma was instructed to persuade the Burmese king Mindon Min to accept the annexation of Pegu (Lower Burma) following the Anglo-Burmese War of 1852. It was also the intention of the British to collect information about the country. They travelled in Burma from August to early November 1855, stopping at various places to allow Linnaeus Tripe, the official photographer, and the mission’s artist, Colesworthy Grant, to perform their duties. Capital of the first kingdom of Burma from the 11th to the 14th century, Pagan is one of the most important archaeological sites in South East Asia, with the remains of over 2000 stupas, temples and monasteries scattered over a 30 km radius. Tripe wrote of the That-byin-nu, “Or ‘the Omniscient’. It is about 230 feet square, and 200 feet high; divided into two stages, each stage into two stories. An arched corridor passes round each stage, with arched doorways opening outwards; opposite those on the ground story are sitting figures of Gautama. In the centre of each side of the lower stage, is a projecting wing with a lofty doorway, opening into a vestibule: this forms a centre porch to the corridor, a colossal seated figure of Gautama facing it. The centre of the building is a solid mass of masonry terminated by a bulging pyramidal spire crowned by a tee. Its date is about 1100 A.D.” The temple is the tallest construction in Pagan, towering to 61 ms. Built by King Alaungsitthu in the middle of the 12th century, its square plan is the most elaborate of the middle period of building in Pagan (ca.1120-70).

 

Linnaeus Tripe. 'Tsagain Myo: View near the Irrawadi River, August 29-30, 1855' 1855

 

Linnaeus Tripe
Tsagain Myo: View near the Irrawadi River, August 29-30, 1855
1855
26.2 × 34.2 cm (10 1/4 × 13 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Stephen G. Stein Fund

 

Photograph by Linnaeus Tripe of a view at Sagaing in Burma (Myanmar), from a portfolio of 120 prints. The view is on the bank of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady), looking towards a building raised on piles over the water. Tripe wrote in the accompanying letterpress, “The Irrawadi at the time of the freshes, inundates the country from some distance from its banks; the necessity therefore of building on piles, as above seen is very evident.”

 

Linnaeus Tripe. 'Tsagain Myo: Ruined Tazoung, August 29-30, 1855' 1855

 

Linnaeus Tripe
Tsagain Myo: Ruined Tazoung, August 29-30, 1855
1855
27 × 34.2 cm (10 5/8 × 13 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Stephen G. Stein Fund

 

 

“Innovative British photographer Captain Linnaeus Tripe (1822-1902) captured some of the earliest photographs of India and Burma (now Myanmar). In the first major traveling exhibition of his work, Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860 – on view at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, from September 21, 2014, through January 4, 2015 – approximately 60 photographs taken between 1854 and 1860 document the dramatic landscapes and the architecture of celebrated religious and secular sites in India and Burma, several of which are now destroyed.

“Tripe occupies a special place in the history of 19th-century photography for his foresight in recognizing that photography could be an effective tool for conveying information about unknown cultures and regions,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “We are delighted to premiere this exhibition for visitors interested in photography, architecture, and history, and we hope that these captivating images provide inspiration to all.”

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum. After Washington, the exhibition will be on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from February 24 through May 25, 2015, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, from June 24 through October 11, 2015.

 

Exhibition highlights

Arranged chronologically, the exhibition traces Tripe’s work from his earliest photographs made in England (1852-1854) during an extended leave from his first deployment in India, to those created on expeditions to the south Indian kingdom of Mysore (1854), to Burma (1855), and again to south India (1857-1858). His primary subjects range from archaeological sites and monuments, ancient and contemporary religious and secular buildings, to geological formations and landscape vistas.

Tripe first took photographs of English dockyards, ships undergoing repairs, and breakwaters – subjects of importance to the military. Photographs such as Quarterdeck of HMS “Impregnable” (1852-1854) distinguish his work from fellow amateurs, who preferred picturesque landscapes and genre scenes.

Tripe returned to India to work for the East India Company during a transitional time in the history of Great Britain, India, and Burma. By 1854 the company was the world’s largest and most powerful commercial enterprise as well as the virtual ruler of India and Burma. Administration of this vast area generated a need for collecting data, maps, surveys, drawings, and eventually photographs. Inspired by his employer’s interests, Tripe made a privately funded expedition to Mysore in south India, where he used his newly mastered photographic skills to document ancient sites and produced such images as Hullabede: Suli Munduppum from the Northeast (1854).

“Tripe’s training as a surveyor, where the choice of viewpoint and careful attention to visual details were essential, was key to the artistic success of his photographs,” said Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head, department of photographs, National Gallery of Art.

In 1855, Tripe and a topographic watercolor artist traveled along with a mission to Burma that sought to secure a peace treaty. During the expedition to Upper Burma, Tripe made more than 200 negatives, which he selected, retouched, printed, and compiled into portfolios, each with 120 original photographs, including Ye-nan-gyoung: Tamarind Tree (1855) and Pugahm Myo: Distant View of Gauda-palen Pagoda (1855).

The mission’s ultimate destination was the royal Burmese city of Amerapoora, where Tripe made nearly 100 negatives. For the presentation portfolio of this expedition, he arranged his photographs as if giving a tour of the city: from the residency compound, past a monumental Gautama – the most popular Burmese representation of the historical Buddha – to the western suburbs. Twenty-six original photographs from his Burma expedition will be on view.

Tripe was appointed photographer to the Madras Presidency in 1856, a British administrative subdivision covering much of southern India. He considered this a great honor and proposed that his work should be the “first attempt at illustrating in a complete and systematic manner the state of a country by means of photography.”

This project secured his status as the first to photograph extensively in south India – documenting the country’s holiest temples to the Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu as well as efforts at modernization by the British and the widespread influence of the East India Company. His work in south India generated more than 290 large-format negatives, which he made into nine portfolios, a total of 17,745 prints, 30 of which will be on display.

The exhibition will also showcase Tripe’s 19-foot-long panorama, Tanjore: Great Pagoda, Inscriptions around Bimanum (1858) – the first of its kind in photography – recording the ancient Tamil inscriptions that run around the base of the Brihadishvara Temple at Tanjore in south India. To accomplish this technical marvel, Tripe circled the temple taking 21 separate exposures, which he joined and retouched to create the final composition.

To help visitors appreciate Tripe’s technical achievements, the installation features a final gallery with photographs by a number of Tripe’s contemporaries, explaining the photographic printing and retouching practices that distinguish his work.

 

Captain Linnaeus Tripe (1822-1902)

From an upper-middle-class family in Devonport, England, Tripe joined the British East India Company in 1839 and was assigned to the 12th Madras Native Infantry. After several years of deployment in India, he returned to England in 1851 and began to explore an interest in photography. In 1853 he joined the Photographic Society of London.

Reflecting his military training as an officer in the British army, Tripe had great technical success in India and Burma, even though the tropical heat and humidity affected photographic chemistry. Yet Tripe’s destiny as a photographer was linked to the fate of the British Empire in India. Despite his professional achievements and technical innovations, rebellions in the late 1850s prompted a new era of oversight and regulations for the recently nationalized East India Company, and the British government took over the administration and rule of India, making it a crown colony. Tripe was forced to close his studio in 1860 because of cost-cutting measures, and he almost completely abandoned photography as a result.

 

Curators

The exhibition curators are Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head, department of photographs, National Gallery of Art; Malcolm Daniel, curator in charge, department of photography, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and Roger Taylor, professor emeritus of photographic history, De Montfort University, Leicester.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Art

 

Linnaeus Tripe. 'Pugahm Myo: Carved Doorway in Courtyard of Shwe Zeegong Pagoda, August 20-24 or October 23, 1855' 1855

 

Linnaeus Tripe
Pugahm Myo: Carved Doorway in Courtyard of Shwe Zeegong Pagoda, August 20-24 or October 23, 1855
1855
32.5 × 26.9 cm (12 3/4 × 10 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Diana and Mallory Walker Fund

 

Photograph by Linnaeus Tripe of a carved doorway of the Shwezigon temple in the Pagan (Bagan) region of Burma (Myanmar), from a portfolio of 120 prints. Capital of the first kingdom of Burma from the 11th to the 14th century, Pagan is one of the most important archaeological sites in South East Asia, with the remains of over 2000 stupas, temples and monasteries scattered over a 30 km radius. An important place of pilgrimage in Pagan, the Shwezigon’s lower terraces were apparently built by Anawrahta (ruled 1044-77) and the rest of the edifice was built by Kyanzittha (ruled 1084-1113). Tripe wrote of this picture, “This is in the Court of Shwe Zeegong. It is ruinous and out of the perpendicular, but very interesting, and, being one of many in the same court and all differing, shows how fertile in design the Burmese are.”

 

Linnaeus Tripe. 'Tsagain Myo: A Roadway, August 29-30, 1855' 1855

 

Linnaeus Tripe
Tsagain Myo: A Roadway, August 29-30, 1855
1855
24.5 × 34.1 cm (9 5/8 × 13 3/8 in.)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Purchase, The Buddy Taub Foundation, Dennis A. Roach and Jill Roach, Directors, and Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2012
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Photograph by Linnaeus Tripe of a road at Sagaing in Burma (Myanmar), from a portfolio of 120 prints. Tripe, an officer from the Madras Infantry, was the official photographer attached to a British diplomatic mission to King Mindon Min of Burma in 1855. This followed the British annexation of Pegu after the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852. Mandalay in central Burma was the capital of the last Burmese kingdom. Clustered around it on the banks of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) river are other earlier capitals, such as Ava (Inwa), Amarapura and Sagaing. The latter, 21 kms south-west of Mandalay, is on the opposite bank of the river from Ava and has long been revered as the religious centre of Burma. People come from all over the country to meditate at Sagaing, popularly described as ‘Little Pagan’ since there are hundreds of stupas and monasteries at this site. Founded in 1315 by a Shan chieftain, it was capital for only a few decades before the kings shifted to Ava.

 

Linnaeus Tripe. 'Amerapoora: Wooden Bridge, September 1–October 21, 1855' 1855

 

Linnaeus Tripe
Amerapoora: Wooden Bridge, September 1 – October 21, 1855
1855
22.3 × 32.4 cm (8 3/4 × 12 3/4 in.)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Purchase, The Buddy Taub Foundation, Dennis A. Roach and Jill Roach, Directors, and Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2012
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Photograph by Linnaeus Tripe, from a portfolio of 120 prints, showing a view of the wooden bridge at Amarapura in Burma (Myanmar). The bridge spans the seasonal Taungthaman Lake to the south of Amarapura and is 1.5 kms long. Built by a mayor, U Bein, in 1784, it was constructed from teak posts salvaged from the ruined former capital city of Ava (Inwa). Tripe wrote of this view, “Carried over the west limb of the Lake on piles about 7 feet apart with some openings (bridged with loose planks) for the passage through of large boats.”

 

Linnaeus Tripe 'Amerapoora: Colossal Statue of Gautama Close to the North End of the Wooden Bridge, September 1 – October 21, 1855' 1855

 

Linnaeus Tripe
Amerapoora: Colossal Statue of Gautama Close to the North End of the Wooden Bridge, September 1 – October 21, 1855
1855
24.7 x 33.3 cm (9 3/4 x 13 1/8 in.)
Collection of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro

 

Photograph by Linnaeus Tripe of a statue of the seated Buddha, near the U Bein bridge at Amarapura in Burma (Myanmar). Amarapura was the site of the first British Embassy to Burma in 1795, and played host again to Tripe’s Mission. Tripe wrote of this Buddha surrounded by small pagodas, ‘Its height is about 37 and a half feet above the throne’.

 

Linnaeus Tripe. 'Amerapoora: View on the Lake, September 1 - October 21, 1855' 1855

 

Linnaeus Tripe
Amerapoora: View on the Lake, September 1 – October 21, 1855
1855
22.4 × 34.8 cm (8 7/8 × 13 3/4 in.)
Courtesy Robert Hershkowitz, Charles Isaacs, Hans P. Kraus Jr.

 

Photograph by Linnaeus Tripe with a general view looking across Taungthaman Lake to the city of Amarapura in Burma (Myanmar). Amarapura was designed upon a square mandala, or diagram illustrating cosmological ideas. Each of the twelve city gates, three along each wall, was surmounted by a Burmese style pavilion known as a pyat-that. The city was encircled by a moat, inside which the streets were built upon a grid pattern. The photographer wrote of this view, “Taken from the causeway crossing the Toung-deman lake at its eastern extremity. A glimpse of the city is caught on the left.”

 

Linnaeus Tripe. 'Amerapoora: Shwe-doung-dyk Pagoda, September 1-October 21, 1855' 1855

 

Linnaeus Tripe
Amerapoora: Shwe-doung-dyk Pagoda, September 1 – October 21, 1855
1855
25.8 × 34.6 cm (10 1/8 × 13 5/8 in.)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Purchase, The Buddy Taub Foundation, Dennis A. Roach and Jill Roach, Directors, and Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2012
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Linnaeus Tripe. 'Amerapoora: Toung-lay-lou-tiy Kyoung, September 1-October 21, 1855' 1855

 

Linnaeus Tripe
Amerapoora: Toung-lay-lou-tiy Kyoung, September 1 – October 21, 1855
1855
26.6 × 33.5 cm (10 1/2 × 13 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Stephen G. Stein Fund

 

Photograph by Linnaeus Tripe of a kyaung (monastery) at Amarapura in Burma (Myanmar). This view shows close-up detail of carved stonework at the entrance to the kyaung. Tripe wrote, “Monasteries are usually built of wood, this is of brick, its style too is uncommon in many of its details.”

 

 

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Constitution Avenue NW, Washington

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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