Burma Views: The photos of Linnaeus Tripe

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I was wandering around the National Gallery of Art the other day and stumbled across the exhibit “Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860.” Since I was born in Burma this was immediately interesting. I walked right in without reading any of the preamble and just started looking around. Many of the photographs were from Amarapura, the capital from 1842 to 1859 under King Tharrawaddy which is now part of Mandalay.

The East Gopuram of the Great Pagoda, 1858, Linnaeus Tripe
The East Gopuram of the Great Pagoda, 1858, Linnaeus Tripe

After the Anglo-Burmese war of 1852, the British annexed a part of Burma. This was the second of three wars. The third war in 1885 resulted in the British taking over the entire country. In 1855 Lord Dalhausie, the governor general of India, went on a political visit to Burma.

Lord Dalhausie recommended the photographer Linnaeus Tripe travel with him to Burma to document the architecture and landscape. Tripe was instructed to act in deference to the Burmese customs as spent much of his time padding around the temples barefoot. He also tried to teach members of the court about photography. He complained about the heat and the toll it took melting the wax on his negatives when trying to print.


The result of this trip was 120 photographs printed in a collection called Burma Views. He captured ancient temples, many of them crumbling, giant Buddhas, and rice paddies. The photos were more than documentation, they were eerie and beautifully executed.

As I wandered around the gallery I was struck by the similarity the photos were to ones my parents took in the 1950’s. Not a lot had changed. Given Burma’s recent history, I imagine it is still much the same today.


If you can’t make it to the museum, the book “Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860” pictured above is by Roger Taylor and available on Amazon. The exhibit at the National Gallery is on until January 4, 1915.