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Pablo Bartholomew

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1955, New Delhi
Lives and works in New Delhi

Largely self-trained in photography and inspired by the works of his father, a renowned photojournalist, Richard Bartholomew. His works have captured the essence of violence, injustice and perilous events. He is also noted for his extensive documentation of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in highly poignant shades.

Education

Self-taught artist

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LIFE AND WORK

UNDERSTANDING Pablo Bartholomew

Documentary style with a unique touch of strong sensitivity towards the issue

I worked in the media for 20 years...you get mannered, you start to produce formulaic images to satisfy expectation. The visual joy goes out of it, a rot sets in. You become a hack... With most photographers their whole career is news photography, they don’t have a period where they have gone into something else, to know what they did before was good. I am very lucky to have that reference and my father’s work … a purer time”,says Pablo Bartholomew.

Be it 1984 shot at the site of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy depicting a dead boy staring eyes out or the 1974 series on morphine addicts in Delhi, Pablo’s photographs speak volumes about his understanding and sensitivity to the world that his camera is capturing. The girl shooting up in a dingy room in Paharganj when seen with the dog suggests that the hippie movement in India was not just bleak and sparse but there were emotions and contacts involved.

Pablo Bartholomew Morphine Addicts in India, 1974.

Pablo Bartholomew Bhopal Gas Tragedy, 1984.

Pablo Bartholomew's monochromes suggest a performance

Pablo Bartholomew’s monochromes suggest a performance of the bodies and even objects against the backdrop of the vast cityscapes often creating different planes within the frame, enhanced by chiaroscuro. These monochromes are nuanced by the shading, focus and framing.

The long shot of the bodies of the rag pickers with a deep focus on the receding lines of the cityscape with its high rises far ahead of them balanced by their shadows or the three friends lying on a bed wearing similar tones of clothes (dark pants and lighter shirts) is balanced by the light shade of the bed sheet and the wall behind, the middle ground being contrasted by the darker headboard of the bed allude to a certain performativity in the images.

Pablo Bartholomew, Gang of Ragpickers on Chowpatty beach, Bombay, 1979.

Pablo Bartholomew, Maya, Zarine with a friend, New Delhi, 1975.

Pablo Bartholomew had a natural flair for photography since his early formative years

Pablo Bartholomew’s exhibition “Outside In”, depicting the artist’s years of growing up through the 1970s and 1980s, in three cities of India: Delhi- the city where he grew up, Bombay- the city which he had adopted to be his own in the 1970s, and Calcutta, the city with which he had an ancestral connection and which allowed him the opportunity to work with Satyajit Ray. The exhibition displays a series of photographs, unselfconsciously mooching, smooching, dancing, singing, lazing around, aunts knitting clicked by Pablo with his group of friends, bellbottomed pants and hippie in spirit with the personal touch of Pablo himself being present in several shots, along with individual names of friends, Pooh, Ayesha, Chander, Bina, Amita and many more. Unlike the “teenage diaries” of most other photographers, Pablo’s photographs suffer from no amateurish tinge in them. The title “Outside In” is also significant as it denotes the nature of the photographs creating an interface between the outside and the inside world and the role of the photographer in bridging the gap and also as the entity who traverses both the worlds.

Pablo Bartholomew, The Kiss, Pablo & Pooh, 1975, part of "Outside In".

With no formal training in photography, yet the legacy continues with Pablo

Pablo Bartholomew takes pride in the fact that he is a school drop-out, for it is obvious that his fame and excellence is not a contribution made by the years that he spent in school but largely a product of the liberal creative environment at home. His father Richard Bartholomew was a renowned photographer and due to this Pablo had at his disposal a ready camera and dark room from an early age. His father was a refugee, who had walked the General Stilwell route which ran from Mandalay to India through Nagaland, during the Second World War. Pablo had heard those stories told as a child, when his father’s family would be exhausted from travel, and the Naga tribes would offer them food and shelter.

These little details of the stories encouraged him to explore them. He made it his project to do a visual anthropological narrative of traditional weaving, jewellery making, skull houses and megaliths that might disappear from the traditional Naga villages. He adopted a documentary approach to the modern families, how they live, and adopted Christian faith. Thus his history of a people sparked off as an afterthought to the stories recollected from childhood memories.

Pablo Bartholomew, “Nagas: Hidden Hill People of India”, 2009, Rubin Museum of Art, New York

The marginalised subjects make frequent appearance in his photographs

Perhaps because of his hybrid parentage, Pablo was conscious of the different levels of marginalisation that take place in India. Thus he chooses to focus his shots on Tangra (A Chinese locality in Calcutta), Jewish, Anglo-Americans and Armenians in Calcutta, prostitutes and eunuchs who exist on the fringes of the society, extras in the film industry, rag pickers and urchins.

He says, “I always try to locate something subjective and otherworldly among a matrix of clich, objective items. A photographer's perspective decides for his dexterity and craftsmanship. It defines his class and sets it apart from the run-of-the mill crowd. Even in a heap of debris or a mound of garbage, you must zero in on a glaze of gold. That’s what depicts your signature masterpiece.”

Pablo Bartholomew, Eunuch putting on make-up in front of a mirror, 1979, Shuklajee Street, Bombay

Bibliography