The surreal world of Pablo Bartholomew
By Paramita Ghosh
September 9th, 2016
For 29 years, a box full of Kodachrome slidesheets from an old assignment lay unopened in photojournalist Pablo Bartholomew’s apartment. By the time he remembered them, they had been disfigured by time and termites. Re-examining the slidesheets, he looked at the decay he held in his hands, and put his energy to curate it as a work that had survived the kiss of death.
Pablo Bartholomew’s photography has always been singular for the sensibility he brought to documentary photography and photojournalism. He captured the first free-thinking generation, post Independence, of the 70s and 80s without dropping heavy visual clues. Bell bottoms, beads and clouds of cigarette smoke were only incidental to his moody and unabashed black-and-white frames capturing his own milieu at the time of its turn.
In 1985, Bartholomew had gone to Bangladesh on a National Geographic assignment to capture the building of the Feni River Dam. Fifteen thousand people had been employed to close the mouth of the river in order to control its flooding and create a freshwater reservoir for irrigation. When he re-opened the boxes, he found the colours had morphed into each other; blobs and irregular geometric shapes encircled the people he had shot. In ‘Memento Mori,’ (Remembering the Dead), Bartholomew’s new exhibition, the surviving images are images in their own right, says the artist. They point to a reality that all human endeavour undergo. Not all our work, memories and relationships will live. Some might, some won’t.
“At the Dhaka Art Summit (February, 2016), I was surprised to come across the work and know that it was Pablo’s who is known for his black-and-whites,” says artist and gallerist Peter Nagy of Nature Morte. “Some of the images were almost biblical — they had the look of things that had been excavated from the past.” At Dhaka, the work was at a preliminary stage.