Life | Black & White Memories

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Black & White Memories
Text by Sohini Datta
Published: Volume 19, Issue 3, March, 2011

Pablo Bartholomew’s new exhibition is like a poem; depicting images of a dream-like ‘Bombay’ of the ’70s

From black-and-white sketches of timeless vignettes captured under dim street lights to the World Press Photo Award for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Pablo Bartholomew’s world is a multifaceted passage of years. The essence of the era frozen by him and now released works like a time machine, taking us back to the romance of the 1970s.

So greatly influenced by your father, Richard Bartholomew, did you always know that photography was your calling, or did it find you?
Let’s say that my father always had an influence which was all encompassing but not overbearing. My mother had strong influence too with her being in theatre. Photography was an escape… It gave me freedom from the drudgery of education and life in a sleepy town called Delhi. So who found who, is difficult to say…. But I would say I always knew photography since when I was eight, but found it when I needed that getaway.

Was the transition into photojournalism something you knew would happen or did it chance upon you?
Photojournalism was the only way to go at that time. To be international, one had to publish abroad. So there was this very structured way that I went about and planned things that I was going to work with a photo agency and when I had enough funds to go abroad, I went in search of one that then became the gateway... But there was a price... I let go of this very important documentary work that I was doing.... This very quiet way of seeing but that time in the ’80s, no one was really interested... people’s visual sense was less developed.

There is a distinct poetry in your style; how old were you when you shot these photographs?
Between 20-28 years was when I shot the Bombay images. It was meeting a real city with an innocence of the eye and mind and an awe of looking and seeing.

Literature says, Bombay was more romantic then…dream-like, your photos say the same... did you feel it too?
Well, Bombay was a lot emptier and less frantic. There was space and a feeling of life and humanity that seems to get lost with the density and pace. Many cultures overflowed into each other and the religious divides had not started, it was definitely one of the coolest places to grow up in.

Has the cinematic spirit of erstwhile Bollywood influenced your vision?
I could not attribute Bollywood as my influence of a vision. This started happening at home and in my teens as I was exposed to world cinema, perhaps filmmakers like Bergman, Kurosawa, Ray, Ghatak, Fellini, Chaplin, Hitchcock... but photographers too, the French and American– Bresson, Brassai, Atget, Latrigue, Doisneau and Evan, Frank, Arbus and the list can go on and on. But there are so many things that have influenced me, literature, theatre, paintings, architecture, music...

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