Pablo Bartholomew is an eminent photographer whose body of work includes the images of 1984 Sikh riots, the Bhopal Gas tragedy and the demolition of the Babri Masjid. He speaks to MW about his inspirations, his career-defining moment, and what photography has taught him.

 

  • The biggest decision I’ve made in my life was not to finish high school and to take the risk of getting on with life.

 

  • Success to me, means the ability to creatively express oneself.

 

  • When I was 19, I won my first award, the Press Institute of India award, for a photo story about a morphine user, which a year later culminated in a World Press Photo award. It was like going from  being a zero to a hero, and it had a major impact on my life. Nearly a decade later, I won the World Press Photo Picture of the Year, for 1984. It was a big high at that time, as I was in year two of photographing in the international media, but as the decades passed by, I realised it was a crown with a ring thorns. That image, from the Bhopal tragedy, came with its own baggage — or maybe I just wore it badly. The burden about the impotence of the media in bringing about change for Bhopal Gas victims is haunting, because not enough public opinion could be galvanised into making a difference, and that is the real disaster.

 

  • The best way to deal with failure is to keep working, reinventing, finding new ways of doing and saying things.

 

  • If I hadn’t become a photographer, I would have been a fire engine driver at age 5, a train engine driver at age 9, a biochemist at age 14 and a cinematographer at age 20.

 

  • The advice I would give to someone younger than me would be to hear your own churning, follow your instincts, break free, take risks and learn your craft well, because mediocrity is not an option.

 

  • My biggest high has been hanging out with a bunch of Baul singers in the wilderness, as they went wild, cutting the night with their voices.

 

  • The most unforgettable person I’ve met is, ironically, my father. He was someone who was multi faceted — a writer, poet, art critic, curator and photographer. He was inspirational, not instructional, and never in my face. Hence, Daddy puja has been one of my main agendas over the last decade or so, with resurrections of his exhibitions and a book of his photographs, as well as bringing out a second 640- page book on his writings and art criticism of modern Indian art.Now I am looking at publishing his poetry. It is a boon and a curse to have a creative father who died young — a lot of time is spent in looking after his estate and archives, exorcising the unpleasant sides of his demise.

 

  • If I could turn back the clock, I would inculcate better business sense in myself, and the ability to negotiate with it in the work space.

 

  • I don’t have a defining career moment, because I haven’t had a career as such. To photograph is therapy, for self preservation.

 

  • Photography has taught me that life is solitary — you pretty much come into the world alone and go alone. The path is often lonely, and there are multiple ways navigate. Instinct and experience are what gets you there. When you get there, then what? There are more pathways to negotiate. It’s all about slicing time and reassembling it. This is pretty much the way when you photograph – you slice time at a thousandth of a second, sometimes, and then you assemble the images into a body of work.
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