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The Calcutta Diaries: a journey into the city's culture

art and culture Updated: Apr 03, 2014 19:38 IST
Jigna Padhiar
Jigna Padhiar
Hindustan Times
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Photographer Pablo Bartholomew’s last show in the city in 2011 — Chronicles of a Past Life — was about


of the '70s and '80s. This time, he looks at


of the same period.

Working as a stills photographer at

Satyajit Ray

’s film shoots in those years, Bartholomew wandered beyond the studios, on the streets, and captured a lively, gritty Calcutta.

The Calcutta Diaries will show four different sets of photos — the Chinese community in Tangra, the city’s streets, his time on the sets of Ray’s film, Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977), and his grandmother. Even as the photographs are being hung in the gallery, he takes time off to chat with us. retrospect, what do these photographs mean to you?

It’s a journey into the streets and culture of Calcutta from the mid-1970s, dealing with my exploration of identity and society… I was drawn to capturing moments of my youth, which go beyond the norm of documentary practices or even a photojournalistic approach — living a life often described as an outsider, and grappling with the surroundings I found myself in.

Combining the four sets of images, I present a kind of biography, on the everyday life of a city — a portrait that exposes its twilight years, its disparities, and heady past.

You have created sort of personal biographies of the cities — Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. How do you delve into your archive?

I don't break down my shows by cities. I started looking at my archive in 2005 and, by that, I mean, work that was kept away for over 30 years. The first from the trilogy loosely dealt with the three cities — Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta, that I lived and worked in.

Then I got around to pulling the Bombay work out... As in life, so in the case of the cities, everything is transitory and changing... Ten years from now, you and me will be different, in body and mind.

What are you working on now?

I continue to work on a body of work about Indian Émigrés around the world, that I started in 1987. I have photographed in France, UK and Mauritius. The work looks at the migrant, how they make a new life, what is discarded and what remains amidst the tension of a new world. Portugal is probably the next place where I will shoot.

What are your thoughts on photography in India today?

From the exotic to the horrible, it’s all there. And with image recording being bundled into every conceivable device, there is a huge amount of images being produced every day. Isn’t it the same with words? A huge amount of words is being written every day, but how many take it to a sublime level? The same is true of photography.