Linnaeus Tripe: Views of Burma

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New York An exhibition of the earliest photographs of Upper Burma, by Linnaeus Tripe, will be on view at Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs from February 11 to April 12, 2013. Linnaeus Tripe: Views of Burma will present more than 20 salt prints from waxed paper negatives made in 1855. This will be the first time the photographs have been on view in the United States. Highlights in the exhibition include memorable images of pagodas and temples, landscapes, and monumental sculptures of Buddhas and dragons.

A pioneer of early photographic techniques, Captain Linnaeus Tripe (English, 1822-1902) began to experiment with photography between 1851 and 1854. His first images in India were made in 1854 when he was on leave from his regiment in the East India Company army. His work was shown in the Madras Exhibition of Raw Products, Arts, and Manufactures of Southern India, in early 1855. The jury reported that Tripe's work was the "best series of photographic views on paper," and his work came to the attention of notables, including the 1st Marquess of Dalhousie, Governor-General of India. Hoping to secure a peace treaty with the Burmese, Lord Dalhousie sent a diplomatic mission to the Court of Ava at Amerapoora in the summer of 1855. Linnaeus Tripe was appointed the official photographer.

The journey up Burma's Irrawaddy River proved demanding. Tripe later noted that he "was working against time" and that his photographic project had been severely curtailed by "unfavourable weather, sickness, and the circumstances unavoidably attending such a mission." Nevertheless, Tripe's images of Burma were very well received. The jury at the 1857 Madras Exhibition, where the Burma pictures were on view, declared them "excellent, remarkable for great distinctness and their unusual and beautiful tint." A fellow artist noted that "Captain Tripe's beautiful photographs render description needless."

The exhibition includes a Colossal Statue of Guatama, a 37-foot-high Buddha towering over the surrounding pagodas. A dream-like image of Amerapoora reflects a pagoda in the moat. An imposing view of Pugahm Myo depicts Pato-budho-nya Pagoda dramatically silhouetted against the sky. The massive temple, Damayangyee Pagoda at Pugahm Myo, shows architectural detail "well worth notice" according to Tripe.

Work by Linnaeus Tripe can be found in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Gallery, Washington, D.C.; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; and the British Library, London.

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