Captain Linnaeus Tripe (1822-1902) was a pioneer of early photography who created an outstanding 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.
On display will be Tripe’s photographs of architectural sites and monuments, ancient and contemporary religious and secular buildings, as well as roads, bridges, moats, landscape vistas and geological formations throughout India and Burma. Many of the images are the first photographic records of these sites and the prints on view represent the highlights of Tripe’s output. They will be shown alongside bound albums of his work, a panoramic scroll and two models of monuments similar to his subjects.
Linnaeus Tripe was born in 1822 in Devon, the ninth of 12 children, joining the East India Company army in 1839 and stationed in India throughout the 1840s. He learned to photograph during several years on leave in England in the early 1850s. The exhibition will highlight Tripe’s considerable skill at a time when photography was about to undergo rapid change and the practice and recognition was becoming more widely adopted. It will also show his understanding that photography could be used to convey information about unknown cultures and places to the general public.
The photographs on view represent two major expeditions and preserve an important period in Indian, Burmese and British history. In 1855 Tripe was appointed by the governor-general of India to accompany a mission to Burma to study the area. Here Tripe became the first person to photograph the region’s remarkable architecture and landscapes. He then went on to be the first to photograph extensively in south India after his subsequent appointment as photographer to the Madras government. Through this official role Tripe aimed to capture as much of the south Indian region as possible. After each trip he returned with more than 200 large format paper negatives, from which he carefully oversaw the complex printing in his Bangalore studio that he founded for this purpose.
Tripe’s photographs are technically complex and he is known for his innovative precision with the camera, paying close attention to both his composition and its realisation when printing. To evoke atmospheric effects Tripe retouched most of his negatives by applying pigment in thin layers and included in the exhibition will be a selection of waxed-paper negatives that reveal these working methods. Also on display will be a segment of a panoramic scroll showing the inscriptions around the base of the Great Pagoda temple in Tanjore. Composed of more than 20 prints assembled and mounted onto a long canvas scroll, it is now regarded as a considerable technical achievement, given the physical and climatic conditions of the time.
Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860 is organized jointly by the National Gallery of Art, Washington and and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in association with the V&A. It includes photographs from the collections of the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum, the British Library and many private lenders, as well as photographs and objects from the V&A’s own extensive collection of Tripe’s works.