Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852–1860
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 5th Avenue, New York City
Through May 25
In the early days of the British Raj, few people at home in the UK could do anything but imagine the far-away land their nation had conquered and subjected to colonial rule. It would be another 160 or so years before Instagram arrived and the photographic chemistry of the day suffered terribly in the oppressive heat and humidity of the Indian subcontinent. Then along came Captain Linnaeus Tripe.
As an officer in the British army working under the auspices of the British East India Company, he traveled with diplomatic expeditions creating a visual inventory of celebrated archaeological sites and monuments, religious and secular buildings (some of which are now gone), and landscapes with peculiar geological formations. Tripe was able to produce astoundingly consistent photographs using large-format wax paper negatives.
Between 1854 and 1860, he made several trips to Burma (now Myanmar) and South India, using his training as a military surveyor to set up rigorously composed photos of local highlights that are quite distinct from the picturesque travel photography of the day. The methodical and thorough nature of his work gave contemporary British audiences an unsentimental tour of their new crown jewel, and now the Met has reprised his accomplishments for 21st century audiences.