Please complete the form to email this item.

Photograph - The Elephant Rock
  • The Elephant Rock
    Tripe, Linnaeus, born 1822 - died 1902
  • Enlarge image

The Elephant Rock

  • Object:

    Photograph

  • Place of origin:

    Madura, India (photographed)

  • Date:

    January 1858-February 1858 (photographed)
    1860 (published)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Tripe, Linnaeus, born 1822 - died 1902 (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Albumen print from waxed paper (calotype) negative

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Lady Denison

  • Museum number:

    IS.38:2-1889

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

  • Download image

Linnaeus Tripe (1822–1902) documented much of south India as official photographer to the Madras government (1856-1860). He probably chose to include this unusual rock formation in his albums of Madurai because of its novelty for non local (particularly Western) viewers, as well as its cultural significance. In his album he recounts the related Hindu legend: in the reign of Vikrama Pandyan, the (Soran) king of Kanchipuram invaded Madura, bringing with him a magical elephant. The Hindu god Shiva destroyed the elephant, and the carcass, transformed into a mountain, remains to this day. Tripe has carefully photographed Elephant rock from the front, emphasising its remarkable and trunk-like structure.

Physical description

This black and white photograph shows a large rock formation in the centre of the image, with a stark earth foreground and an empty clear sky in the background.

Place of Origin

Madura, India (photographed)

Date

January 1858-February 1858 (photographed)
1860 (published)

Artist/maker

Tripe, Linnaeus, born 1822 - died 1902 (photographer)

Materials and Techniques

Albumen print from waxed paper (calotype) negative

Dimensions

Height: 250 mm photographic print, Width: 367 mm photographic print, Height: 453 mm album page, Width: 572 mm album page

Object history note

This photograph was given by Lady Denison in 1889 during the keepership of Caspar Purdon Clarke, Keeper of the Indian Section of the V&A. It was written off in 1937, and rediscovered and re-evaluated in the 1990s. See Dewan p.364 for listings of other copies elsewhere.
This photograph was published as plate I of ten in the album Photographs of Madura: Part I 1858, by 'Captain L. Tripe, Government Photographer', published in 1860. It was taken as part of Tripe's remit as the government photographer, which he himself defined broadly, as recording, ‘before they disappear’ buildings, sculptures and inscriptions…' including the picturesque. This was a model for an extensive survey, including tuition of others and experimentation in his own practice. He was funded by the Madras government, but intended selling additional copies of some prints so that his practice could be self-funding.

This photograph was published with the following text:
No. 1
The Elephant Rock
An enormous mass of granite or sienite situated to the north of the town of Madura, altogether isolated from the neighbouring Hills, and when viewed from the S. E. or S. W. bearing a strong resemblance to a couchant Elephant, with its trunk extended in front. The origin of the rock according to Hindu legends is as follows. In the reign of Vikrama Pandyan the (Soran) king of Kanchipuram (called by the English Conjeveram) invaded Madura at the head of 8000 Bauddhas or Samanal, bringing with him an enormous Elephant, which had risen supernaturally from the flames of a huge sacrificial pit dug by the King. This Elephant was however destroyed by Shiva, whose aid was invoked by the Pandyan King with a rocket called Narashimha Astram; and the carcase, transformed to a mountain, remains to this day.

The legend goes on to say that the rocket was left sticking in the mountain; this is invisible to ordinary mortals, though possibly the stump of the flagstaff left to mark the hill as a station during the grand Trigonometrical survey, might be recognised as the remains of the scared missile by a devout Hindu of credulous temperament.

The rock is about 1 ¼ mile long; and 250 feet high, measuring to the top of the Elephant’s head.

Historical significance: Tripe's photographs of South India are an important body of work within Tripe's oeuvre, and are recognised as being some of the most aesthetically and technically competent images of India made in the 19th century.
Tripe entered his Madura series as part of total of 50 photographs from his 1857–8 tour of South India in the 1859 annual exhibition of the Madras Photographic Society. The jury dubbed his photographs ‘the best in the Exhibition’ but as Tripe could not be classed an amateur, he could not win the gold medal. Tripe declined the silver medal amicably, since he considered that as an official photographer he had an unfair advantage over the other entrants.
Tripe’s photographs were valued for their informational value and their technical quality. The adjudicating committee stated that Tripe’s photographs ‘illustrate admirably the architecture of the Hindoo Temples and Places of Southern India, and in particular the Madura and Tanjore series comprise in this respect all that is most worthy of record in those cities.’ (See Dewan, p.16). Forty-six of Tripe’s 50 exhibited images were made from paper (calotype) negatives, which the committee didn't feel were as successful as dry collodion-on-glass negatives, however, declaring that ‘the superiority of definition given by Collodion [-on-glass] is very visible when placed side by side with them.’ It is thought that Tripe prefered paper to glass negatives due to paper being easier and safer to work with.

Historical context note

The southern districts tour and Madras presidency photographs, 1857-58
The Madras government appointed Tripe as photographer following the 1855 directive from the Court of Directors in London, who discouraged illustration in favour of 'photography as a means by which representations may be obtained of scenes and buildings, with the advantages of perfect accuracy, small expenditure of time, and moderate cash', and asked that photography be the main means of recording architecture and antiquities (Dewan, p.6).

As official photographer to the Madras Government, Tripe set off from Bangalore on 14 December 1857 after delays due to waiting for modifications to his new English camera, and his recovery after falling from a horse. He ended his tour in Madras on 30 April 1858 after travelling via Srirangam, Tiruchchirappalli, Madurai, then Pudukkottai, Tanjore, and Tiruchchirappalli again (then called Seeringham, Trichinopoly, Madura, Poodoocottah and Tanjore).

All of these areas had been forcefully taken under British rule in the previous one hundred years, but Tripe looked for scenes or subjects with architectural or antiquarian interest rather than political significance. He had wanted to ensure his images were practical too: before he had set out he had asked the chief engineer for guidance on what would be most useful from an engineering perspective, and incorporated this input into his work.

Descriptive line

Photograph, No. 1 'The Elephant Rock', from the photograph album by Capt. Linnaeus Tripe, 'Photographs of Madura: Part 1', South India, 1858

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Dewan, Janet. The Photographs of Linnaeus Tripe: A Catalogue Raisonné. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 2003, p.406.

Production Note

Edition number unknown. The album of which this photograph is part is one of between 71 and 74 copies.

Attribution note: The V&A has another copy of Tripe's Photographic Views in Madura, parts I to IV (bound) in the National Art Library, pressmark 104.N. The Royal Photographic Society holds the waxed paper negative.
Reason For Production: Commission

Subjects depicted

Rock; Madurai

Categories

Photographs

Production Type

Limited edition

Collection code

SSEA

Download image
Qr_O129185
Ajax-loader