by Pablo Bartholomew
What is about Chobi Mela that makes it special and important?
So what makes me come back to Chobi Mela, this pioneering festival for photography in Asia? It is the question that I ask myself, now that I am here in Dhaka setting up both my father’s and my exhibitions. Obviously it is the opportunity to show the works and be part of discussions that may provide and lead up to good dialogues and debates. But the fact that the last time I was here was such an important reference point is something that I would like to share.
6 years ago was last the time I was here, as part of Chobimela IV. There was this one particular evening during the on-going sessions, I was to present my work and discuss it. That evening the line up of the speakers was great and the quality of the presentations that unfolded and the dialogues emerged, made it a special magical event. It super charged many of us, stimulating us with an adrenalin rush and I remember not being able to sleep for hours that night.
At a personal level that evening was an important marker that has embedded itself into my memory. After my standard presentation, which was about the length and breadth of my photojournalist career, a Q&A session followed. When asked what I was doing currently, I picked up my computer started to project pictures from my archive of my pre-photojournalism days. Randomly picking folders and running through un-sequenced images. This archive of over 15000 images was from the period of my teenage to mid twenties and there was something about being unprepared and showing raw uncorrected black and white scans which had dust and scratch marks which made it a cathartic experience. For the first time I was able to share with an audience, work that I had only been quietly editing. Still trying to figure out what I would make of it.
Since then, I have gone on to intensely work with the archive, editing and creating different bodies of work. The first show was titled “70s & 80s, Outside in – A Tale of 3 cities” at Les Rencontres d’Arles in 2007 and since then it has travelled to over 10 destinations across India and the world. At the same time I started to work on my father’s photography archive. I had already been involved with his archive of writings on Indian art for the past decade. So the family archive became the seminal repository to work with from which I have created two other bodies of work “Bombay – Chronicles of a Past Life “ and the more recent one “Calcutta Diaries”. From my father’s archive I have recently published his writings on the birth of Modern Indian Art called “Richard Bartholomew – The Art Critic” and prior to that was his photography book and exhibition “A Critics Eye”.
So the circle is completing with me coming back to Chobi Mela where I am showing both my father and my work in the same gallery space at Drik House and I am very curious to see how the Bangladeshi audience will react to our photographs as there are so many shared cultural and social nuances between our countries with a common and shared past.
January 22nd 2013, Dhaka
Chobi Mela – International Festival of Photography
January 25 to February 7, 2013
House 58, Road 15A (New),
Dhanmondi, Dhaka 1209