Think of some of the best photos clicked by an Indian photographer and one of the haunting images that comes to mind is the skeleton of a child victim of Bhopal gas tragedy. The genius photographer behind this and many such memorable frames, Pablo Bartholomew has been lauded and awarded nationally and internationally. He received the Padma Shri last year and now has been conferred the insignia “Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres” for his body of work.
Known for his keen eye for capturing human emotions and having an astute sense of studying situations, Pablo has been a name to reckons since the 70s. With so many laurels, international recognition and widespread fame, what does Pablo seek at this point in time? “Money,” he quips and then elaborates, “A lot of interesting works are being carried out by young photographers and they are questioning many established norms in society. While the financial help is coming over for the young and talented lot, even we need fundings to carry out numerous projects that are undertaken.”
A self-taught photographer, who took up photography in the 70s, Pablo has had an eventful journey. He shares, “It’s nearly 40 years that I have been photographing professionally now. I always did a basket of things at any given time. I started earning money by running a small darkroom service, processing film and printing for a few clients. In the early 70’s, I photographed dance and theatre performances to satiate my artistic creativity. Then when I moved to Bombay in mid-70’s, I worked as a stills photographer in Bollywood and also photographed for the advertising and the corporate industry till I moved out into the international media scene working with a French American photo news agency called the Gamma Liaison Network, which I left by 2001.” Currently, he is deeply involved with the functioning of the archive of his and his father’s photographs taken over a span of 60 years and does shows and exhibitions in the country and abroad.
Talking about his early life, Pablo says, “ I grew up in a socialist family. We didn’t have a phone until I was 14. We always rented a place rather than bought a house. My father, Richard Bartholomew, was a painter, poet, writer, curator and above all, one of India’s most prolific art critics. My mum, Rati Bartholomew, was an English professor at Delhi University, founder of several important theatre groups and, a street theatre activist who worked with groups across the sub-continent. My parents practised no religion. I guess my parents were probably very alienated from mainstream India in the first place.” So how did he decide to venture into photography? “After I was asked to leave school, I became a scandal. Everyone came to know me. Thankfully, the cultural set-up back home came to my rescue. With so much confusion in my head, photography provided a sense of purpose. I started photographing family and friends. That was the beginning.”
With a vast body of work to his credit, that includes works like Calcutta Diaries and Outside In! A Tale of Three Cities: 70s and 80s, we ask the photographer about his favourites among his own works. He instantly replies, “I can’t really narrow down a single work.
Most of my photographs are a part of a large body of work and are in context of each other. So I can’t say this particular photo is best one or close to my heart.”
Having covered numerous milestones in his long and eventful journey, what are the future endeavours of Pablo? He says, “I would like to complete the work on the Indian Emigres in different parts of the world quite soon, but owing to lack of funding there has been a slow down. Burma is another front that I am working on so all this keeps me busy in addition to the many exhibitions and photo festivals that keep happening. I recently did public displays of shows in the New Delhi Metro at Rajiv Chowk as part of the French “Fete de la Photo” and another in Pondicherry at the Pondy Photo, which showed photographs of the tribes, at a spectacular location at an abandoned distillery building. And as I give this interview, I am opening a show at Sakshi Gallery in Mumbai which is the third part of the excavation from the The Calcutta Diaries.”