Portrait of the artist as a young man

Pablo Bartholomew’s new show is a collection of his candid photographs of artistes in the ’70s.

January 19, 2016 06:55 pm | Updated September 23, 2016 01:28 am IST - Mumbai

Anand Patwardhan. Photo: PABLO BARTHOLOMEW

Anand Patwardhan. Photo: PABLO BARTHOLOMEW

He may be known more for his photojournalistic work, capturing the big moments in India’s modern history with objectivity and distance such as the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the Emergency and its aftermath and the Babri Masjid demolition. But the gaze in Pablo Bartholomew’s 60/60, clearly, is that of an insider’s. Bartholomew’s series of portraitures of his artist friends and people in art and culture scene in the ‘70s and ‘80s, are so intimate that it could only be of someone who hung out with them.

Such as a photo of actress Nafisa Ali looking oddly close to the camera, sucking her fingers as we can see grains of khichdi stuck to her hands. Or the surprised smile of a lean Victor Banerjee, who’s barely dried himself with a towel after a quick shower in his dressing room at the Indrapuri Studio in Kolkata.

“When you go somewhere on a magazine assignment for an interview and you make them perform in a certain way or try to bring out a certain aspect of personality. But these photos are very relaxed look at people, it’s more like observing them and bringing out the unexpected,” says the celebrated photographer who turned 60 in December, 2015. The exhibition, with the self-explanatory title 60/60, to be shown at the Sakshi Gallery, is a visual celebration of Bartholomew’s journey through 60 black and white photographs of actors, artists, poets, writers, theatre directors and filmmakers.

Born to parents who were part of the cultural scene -- his father Richard was an art critic and poet and his mother Rati, a theatre personality – Bartholomew knew the people he photographed. Some of the people he photographed were significantly older to him and were his parents’ friends such as artists VS Gaitonde and Jeram Patel. A major part of the show is photographs of his colleagues when he was involved with theatre in Delhi.

In the age of celebrity photo-shoots, where even candidness is manicured, a show such as 60/60 comes as a balm to the senses. “My approach has always been the natural end of the spectrum of photography. I let the moment speak, coupled with the light and aesthetics of what is there,” says the photographer who counts the Padmashri, Word Press Photo of the Year and Order of Arts and Letters and more in the list of awards he has been conferred with.

Bartholomew, who always carried a camera with himself ever since he started taking photography seriously, captured these moments when he was between 17 to 27 years old. But the images taken by a budding photographer on the go have now become a document of a lost era. As someone who has followed the documentary tradition of still photography, the Delhi-based artiste views the art form as a kind of a recording.

The greatest pleasure of the show is the shock of seeing now famous personalities in the more adventurous days of their youth. Shashi Tharoor playing Anthony to Mira Nair’s Cleopatra in a play, a fashionably dressed Alok Nath in rousing form in his theatre days, theatre director Feizal Alkazi’s afro-style hairdo or Smita Patil chilling in Bartholomew’s Bombay flat – these were people who were coming into their own in a world whose immediate realities were shaped by events such as the Emergency, the hippie movement and the Vietnam war.

“The show was curated also looking at the surprise element. We chose photos that show how people may have changed. To see the younger form of people who have a public persona today,” he says. The photo of Meneka Gandhi and Lillete Dubey (Keshwani then) standing together in an intense scene in a drama, he says, is an ideal example of how the two have gone to different trajectories since.

What the pictures also tell about how people responded to the camera at that point of time “In the earlier days, people were less aware of the camera, it meant less. Now there is a very different engagement with the camera. Whether it is a phone or a small camera, everybody can take pictures. People take selfies with actors. That has made them very aware of how they want to render themselves,” says Bartholomew.

Some of the best photos came from his stint as a photographer on the sets of two feature films, Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982) – a picture of Sir Ben Kingsley in his make-up as the Mahatma is part of the show -- and Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi(1977). One of Bartholomew’s favourite images is that of a barebodied Amjad Khan being dressed by an assistant in a green room in Calcutta.

“The picture is interesting because after such a violent presence in Sholay (1975), we associated him with the dark dacoit he played in it. But in Shatranj Ke Khilaadi, that came two years after, he played an effeminate Wajid Ali Shah who loves music and dance. The picture is taken in the year between the two films, and you can see the cut marks of his heart attack,” he recalls.

His other priceless shot also came when Ray was in Bombay for the post-production of Shatranj. “He went out for an afternoon stroll at Haji Ali, he stopped at the juicewala and the magazinewala. He had just started looking at magazines when I had photographed him,” he says.

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