18 April 2023
A Celebration of Blurry Faces
Figuring out which picture to analyze for this project was difficult for me. With such a wide variety from the Southeast Asia collection, it was hard to decide what direction I wanted to take this assignment in. After looking through family photo books and other rare and distinctive pictures, I finally found the one that I wanted. Through this photograph I was able to recognize features of culture through building and sculpture structure, power dynamics through the people pictured, and specific examples of cultural crossroads.
I chose to analyze a photograph that was created 1885/1895. The image I picked was taken in Myanmar, Burma. The image is titled “Htee of Great Pagoda Moulmein” and is described to likely be taken by British Colonists. The first thing that I gathered, even before I looked closer at the image, was because this photo was taken by British Colonists. The image can tell us that Burma was colonized by Britain during this time period. As we learned in class, in the “Southeast Asia, A Place and An Idea” section, we discussed British colonization in Burma, and that “British Colonial rule in Myanmar began in 1825 with the First Anglo-Burmese war” (Collins).
In this black and white photograph there is a giant structure on a carriage. This structure is supposed to be modeled after Burmese Pagoda’s. This model towers over everyone, with several layers of intricate designs of some kind of metal. A Pagoda is a type of temple in Eastern Asia that has several stories with roofs that turn upwards and a point on the very top of the structure. These temples are “common in China, Japan, Korea, Nepal, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia” (New World Encyclopedias), although they originated from India. The spread of this temple design demonstrates a great model of deep histories of connection. More specifically, this is an example of cultural crossroads spreading these temples across all of these countries in Southeast Asia. Pagoda’s can signify the religion of the country during this time too. Pagoda’s can also be described as a “structure made of stone, brick, or wood, usually associated with a Buddhist temple complex and therefore usually found in East and Southeast Asia, where Buddhism was long the prevailing religion” (Britannica). The detail in which their pagoda statue was created, solidifies the assumption that the main religion in Burma at the time was Buddhism and that these objects are very important to them.
Next to the model Pagoda, is a giant horse statue. The materials in which the horse is made are unclear. The body looks as though it’s been decorated with beautiful plate-like figures. The horse has a detailed face with bridles around it, a saddle lay upon its back, a giant, dark, and stiff tail and a flag post raised above its body. What I found the most interesting about this statue, is the platform that holds the horse up. This is not only a platform, but a massive, beautifully and artistically decorated box. On this box, there are three painted people who are visible. These figures had a variety of skin colors both light and dark. All three of them seem to be either kneeling or sitting on the ground. They have looks of distress painted on. The first person seems to be wiping sweat from their forehead, covering their face underneath. The next person is looking sorrowfully to the side with their hands by their chest. The last person looks almost as though they are actually smiling. This person is kneeling down, with their hands extended as if asking for something. Their face is uplifted as if they are looking up at someone. The rest of this box is covered up by the real people standing in front.
The people that are standing around these statues are why I choose to give this picture a new title: “A Celebration of Blurry Faces”. This is because there are very few people who were standing still enough for the camera to read their faces in this picture, although it is obvious that no one is smiling. The people surrounding the image look as though they’ve been smeared across the page, like they will never stop moving. Another thing that I noticed was that everyone in this photograph appears to be male with either a white shirt on or no shirt at all. The meaning of this picture can be divided into two sides: the people in the picture and the British colonists taking the picture. For the local people in the photograph, the meaning of this photo seems quite odd. The people are all facing the camera, as if they had been posed, but it does not seem like anyone was ready for this photograph. The people seem proud of their exquisite figures, standing next to them, but no one seems happy. This gives the illusion that the photograph was more for the photographer than the people in the photograph. On the other hand, the British Colonist may have been taking this photo for documentary purposes, as the sculptures are moved through town in a parade of some sort.
In the background of this photograph are large wooden buildings. The building on the left looks more stable and more house-like, compared to the building on the right, which looks like a massive canopy with an open space underneath. Behind the buildings is tropical greenery.. You can see large trees on the side of the canopy-like building as well as palm trees in the distance.
I believe that this photograph can be interpreted in many different ways. With so many components to this picture, analyzing it could be endless. However, through this picture I was able to identify specific aspects of culture, religion, and power dynamics in Myanmar Burma during the nineteenth century. I think this picture’s complexity is what made it so perfect for this assignment. With so much going on there is so much information that can be learned from this photograph.
Britannica. “Pagoda.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/technology/pagoda.
Collins, Lauren. “Week 2 Slides.” ASIA 1000 Canvas, https://canvas.colorado.edu/courses/89438.
“Pagoda.” Visit the Main Page, https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Pagoda.