Little-Known Photographer on View at the National Gallery of Art

Linnaeus Tripe’s early photographs of India and Burma served as “a way to make [the] foreign land more real,” said National Gallery of Art senior curator Sarah Greenough.

Today, that foreign land will be made real again as an exhibition of Tripe’s work begins in the gallery’s West Building.

Greenough curated the exhibition with Richard Taylor of DeMontfort University and Malcolm Daniel of Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts, according to the exhibition catalog.

The exhibition features 61 pieces spanning Tripe’s career, which showcases the evolution of early photography and the Indian subcontinent itself, Greenough said.

“Tripe occupies a special place in the history of … photography for recognizing that the medium could be an effective tool [for] conveying information of unknown cultures and regions,” gallery director Earl Powell III said.

The exhibit begins with Tripe’s photos of his hometown, Devonport, England, that he took before departing for Asia. It follows him to Mysore and Burma, where the then-Burmese King Mindon welcomed Tripe and his crew as honored guests.

Tripe learned photography in 1851 while on home leave from the British Eat India Company. He became one of the new “hybrid” scholars: a gentleman amateur photographer, Greenough said.

Unfortunately, “Tripe’s fate in India depended on the fate of the East India Company,” Greenough said. When the British government stripped the company of its de facto sovereignty beginning in 1857, Tripe’s work began to be restricted, Greenough said.

In 1859, the British government ordered Tripe to cease printing of his portfolios, Greenough said. He retired in 1873 and died of dementia in 1902, his work at that point all but forgotten.

Recently, a renewed interest in Tripe’s groundbreaking work has sparked increased research and, subsequently, the first-ever traveling exhibition featuring his photos, Powell said.

“His aims were not merely documentary, but artistic,” Greenough said. “His innovative exploration of camera operation, and the lavish attention he paid to the execution of his prints, [illustrates its artistic value].”

That historical value, artistic vision and technical prowess combine to create a set of “very rare and wonderful works,” Powell said. “With a name like [Linnaeus Tripe], I think that would attract anybody,” he said.

“I hope you’ll agree,” Greenough said, “that Tripe deserves to be remembered for more than just his memorable name.”

writersblocheadshots15Evan Berkowitz is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at evanjberkowitz@gmail.com.

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