Beneath the sand and gravels shined her porcelain-like skin, innocent blue eyes wide with wonder and half-open mouth concealed an unruly cry, she was all but a child, and one among the 3,787 people died in the Bhopal tragedy. When the picture trails you through the roads of angst and despair Bhopal has endured, one wouldn’t hesitate to agree ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. When lensman Pablo Bartholomew’s eyes travel through the time and people in a shutter speed, his camera deftly captures these breath-taking signature photographs.
For Pablo, who has won this year’s Padma Shri for his photojournalistic expeditions, his photographs are methods to express the creative streak in him. With a career spanning 40 years, Pablo has nothing but humility as his cohort. Having had Richard Bartholomew as his father, who had practically dominated Indian art-critic world in his era, Pablo did not have to look anywhere else for mentors. Within his multitude of talents Richard hid his photographic skills as well.
“My father was not only an art critic, he was a thinker, poet and also a photographer, so we had photography equipments and darkroom facilities at home. I was introduced to the world of photography when I was 7 or 8 and with my new camera at hand I took photos of everyday subjects. So it was very easy for me to take up photography as my passion,” says Pablo. Pablo’s house was a meeting place for a stream of creative people as both his parents enjoyed inviting their friends over. His mother Rati Batra, was a theatre artiste, hence Pablo had the luxury to meet all genres of artists like directors, actors, writers, and also his fathers artist friends.
“It was not only my father who was creative but my mother being a theatre artiste was quite adept in art and literature. I have got the opportunity to closely watch these creative minds at work and learned very early that it is art that would lead me to what I want to become. There was so much creativity around me and I got inspired easily,” says Pablo. He chose people as his subjects at a very young age and wrote poems of their expressions with his camera.
His award-winning photo series ‘Morphine addicts in India’ etches an unknown world masked underneath the polished morale of India and Indians. Myriad portrayals of a woman addicted to morphine, her insufferable agony, her shattered ego, her stooped eyes, her contemplating gestures, come and go in various frames. The helplessness that exudes from her face defines the youth of 70s and their forbidding indulgences.
Pablo says the digital era is not threatening as evolution of technology is inimitable, nonetheless, not all can take a good picture that has all the ingredients of one.
“It is just like writing. Anybody can write today, but is it all writing? With a good computer application one could correct grammar, spelling errors and make a good sentence, but is it actually writing? Likewise a digital camera can take good pictures but the aesthetics of photography is for those who are real photographers,” He says.
Pablo who had grown up learning the hard way of photography techniques, decided to quit his school at a very young age. “Photography was my vision as I was not keen on education. It became my calling as I chose photography over school. No parents will support your child’s decision to quit school, so even though they were reluctant at first, being liberal, they accepted my decision,” he says.
Pablo received World Press Photo award at the age of 19 for his series Morphine Addicts in India. His photo on Bhopal gas tragedy (1984) won that year’s world press photo of the year award. Pablo who has travelled immensely in India recalls his visiting Kerala as rewarding. Though landscapes are not his forte, Kerala, he says, has gifted him beauty nestled in its breathtaking mountains and valleys.
A photojournalist has to be particular about his role, says Pablo, as it is very easy for him to fall for the victim in a crisis situation. “Is he an activist, a neutral observer or a person who could broadcast this picture and make a difference to the situation? A photographer should make his mind about his role, when he is dealing with sensitive situations,” says Pablo. Pablo received his Padma Shri on Friday, April 5th. “Receiving a Padma award is overwhelming as I count it as a recognition for both my and my father’s works,” says Pablo.