In the last few years there has been a resurgence of interest in early photography with a number of exhibitions , the V&A are the most recent to present work about this intriguing subject. The Victoria and Albert Museum, as part of their V&A India Festival present an exhibition devoted to the work of Captain Linnaeus Tripe.
Captain Linnaeus Tripe (1822-1902) was a pioneer of early photography who created an remarkable body of work depicting the landscape and architecture of India and Burma (now Myanmar) in the 1850s. This major presentation of Tripe’s photographs will include more than 60 of his most striking views taken between 1852 and 1860.
Linnaeus Tripe was born in 1822 in Devon, at the age of 17 he joined the East India Company army in 1839 and was stationed in India throughout the 1840s. However, it was in his years of leave in England in the early 1850s that he began to learn the art of photography which was still in its early developments. Very few of Tripe’s early photographs taken in England survive , but the exhibition does have a small number taken in Devonport and dated 1853. One of the most extraordinary is the Gun Wharf at Devonport in which thousands of cannon balls are being cleaned in preparation for action.
Tripe returned to Bangalore, India, as a captain in 1854. and began to utilise his photographic skills with his first photographs of India in the same year. His photographic skills were soon recognised and many of the photographs in the exhibition represent two major expeditions. In 1855 Tripe was appointed by the governor-general of India to accompany a mission to Burma to study the area. Tripe became the first person to photograph the region’s remarkable architecture and landscapes. He was then appointed as the official photographer to the Madras government which enabled him to undertake a series of trips returning with his negatives before undertaking the complex printing process in his Bangalore studio. It was ironic that 1857 Indian uprising affected Tripe’s funding and the security of his project. Control of India was taken from the East India Company by the British Crown and it was decided that Tripe’s project was a ‘luxury’ and Tripe was ordered to close the business and sell off the equipment by the end of 1859. Tripe went back into the Army in 1863 and in 1869, Tripe made his two final series of photographs in Tonghoo. He eventually returned to England in 1873 but seemed to have lost his enthusiasm for photography and began collecting shells and corals, Tripe died in his home in Devonport in 1902.
Tripe’s photographs are remarkable on a number of levels, many of the early photographers developed their skills in studios where it was easier to control the different aspects of the photographic process. Photography outside presented a number of challenges, in hot and humid conditions, the difficulties were considerable. Waxed-paper negatives were especially susceptible to hot weather and it was known that some of his assistants collapsed due to the high temperatures.
All these difficulties make Tripe’s achievements all the more outstanding, his photographs are not just technically complex but his precision with the camera is complemented by his eye for a pleasing and artistic composition . One of the highlights of exhibition , a segment of a panoramic scroll showing the inscriptions around the base of the Great Pagoda temple in Tanjore illustrates Tripe’s technical skill.
Photography is so much part of our everyday modern life that we often forget that its development was down to pioneers like Captain Linnaeus Tripe who documented the extraordinary architectural sites and monuments, ancient and contemporary religious buildings, secular buildings and landscapes throughout India and Burma. Many of the images are the first photographic records of these sites and created significant interest enabling people to see a realistic representation rather than an artists impression.
This small free exhibition is particularly interesting for those interested in early photography or those who wish to see some of the earliest photographs of India and Burma. However, the exhibition has a wider appeal with images of sites and landscapes little changed for hundreds of years but often later swept away by the dramatic changes of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
If you would like more information about the exhibition, visit the V and A website here
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