memento mori - pablo bartholomew

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Memento Mori, 2016, an incredibly moving installation by Indian photographer Pablo Bartholomew that revolved around his response to the accidental destruction of one of his photographic archives). ArtReview ASIA, Spring ,2016 Photos: Pablo Bartholomew Text: Rosalyn D'Mello Memento Mori mentioned in ArtReview Asia, Spring, 2016 in the Dhaka Art Summit survey review.


  • Memento Mori: Remember You Must DiePablo Bartholomew attempts to reimagine his 1986 documentation of the building of a large dam in Bangladesh, the Kodachrome transparencies of which have been irretrievably damaged to the vagaries of time, water and termites.Words by Rosalyn DMello.

    Memento Mori is the result of an unearthing of loss and a subsequent act of mourning. As keeper of his fathers collection of over 17,000

    negatives as well as his monumental ownthe consequence of a four-decade-long engagement with the practice of photographyfrom the very beginning of his career, Bartholomew was compelled to assume the role of archivist. As a

    photojournalist and documentarian, his inclination was perennially towards recording the ever-transforming present to preserve not just for posterity but for the sake of the still unfolding future moments that would eventually pass into history, chronicling events as they transpired not only to disseminate the fact of their having taken place but also to memorialise their expansive contours. Having witnessed the retrospectively inevitable redundancy of

    The latest Tamil flick will thrill and chill, he

    promises as he rides his cycle around the city

    coaxing people to visit the local cinema hall.


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  • Pablo learnt photography from his father, the art critic and photographer Richard Bartholomew. Three-time World Press Photo winner and a Padma Shri, hes spent the last few years, reinterpreting his archive, culling out photos that speak of a lost time, work thats slow and meditative, as opposed to his hard-hitting reportage work.

    film and the heralding of the digital era, Bartholomew was privy to the ensuing complexity that characterised the storing of the image. As he, too, adopted digital for its convenience over analouge, his archive had to accommodate both the virtual and the material, the byte-sized and the negative, with no real physical expansion in storage space and the persistent threat of exposure to the elements.

    In 1986, Bartholomew was commissioned by National Geographic to photograph 15,000 Bangladeshi men who, in the absence of money and machinery, had to physically close the mouth of the Feni River to control flooding and create a freshwater reservoir for irrigating rice over a seven-hour intertidal marathon, thus building one of the largest dams in the South Asian country (The story, called They Stopped the Sea ran in the July 1987 issue of the magazine). Bartholomew had stored the transparencies from the assignment in a box in the topmost shelf of one of the cupboards in his apartment. A little over a year ago, he detected the aftermath of a leak that had its source in the apartment upstairs that had rendered the

    area damp and humid. He climbed a ladder to investigate and was horrified to discover that these original Kodachrome slides had been feasted on by termites that had colonised the cardboard box. The images they had borne had become irretrievable. Not a single one could be salvaged.

    Memento Mori is his attempt at resurrecting their corpses, fully conscious of their irreversible state of mutation. In photographing these ruins, he restores and reimagines the intimacy and immediacy of their contents. The photographic gesture becomes a mechanism for coping with the permanence of his loss and an exposure of the futility of the human attempt at preservation. The work serves to remind us of the collective nature of the disappearance. It is our loss too that this slice of an immense archive is no longer accessible.

    Bartholomew extends the scope of the series to present visual meditations on the perils of maintaining archives and the fragility of material things, and in doing so, forewarns us of their eventual expiration despite every effort to resuscitate.

    The series is an elegy to time irreparably lost.


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