World Press Photo of the Year, prize singles
A child killed by the poisonous methyl isocyanate gas leak during the Union Carbide chemical plant disaster in Bhopal, India.
The gas drifted over the densely populated neighborhoods around the plant, killing thousands of people immediately and creating a panic as tens of thousands of others tried to flee Bhopal. An estimated number of 15,000 people would eventually die of diseases directly related to the disaster. Many more survivors suffered from chronic disorders, such as respiratory problems and eye problems, caused by their exposure to the toxic gas.
Pablo Bartholomew about making the photo in a 2005 interview for World Press Photo’s 50th anniversary: ‘This image was made on the 4th of December 1984 in Bhopal. I flew into Bhopal that morning. It was heady times in India: the year 1984 was marked by huge change and turmoil. Mrs. Gandhi ordered the entering of the Golden Temple in June, the holiest of the Sikh shrines, she was later assassinated by her Sikh guards in October of 1984. Her son Rajiv Gandhi took over and by the 1st of December the campaigning for the elections had started. Covering the elections, I was between the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh when the news of the Bhopal gas disaster started coming in on the 3rd of December. To get to Bhopal from where I was in Amethi, the journey took over 14 hours by car, train, car and a flight. Right after landing, I headed straight for the city to the biggest hospital of Bhopal, Hamidia Hospital, where all the gas-affected people were being treated. Hundreds of people were still arriving from the city and the affected areas to this main hospital of the city. All wards were overflowing with people, but the children’s ward was one of the most chaotic places in the hospital: young babies on ventilators, several small children sharing beds and others lying on the floor. Ambulances and trucks were taking the dead from the hospital to be cremated or buried, and I followed them to the cremation ground, and adjacent to that was the Muslim burial ground. It was in this area that mass cremations were taking place, people were being buried, and in all this very tragic activity there was another burial of a child but this burial seemed so different: the child’s eyes, glazed, milky white and staring out up at you.” Pablo Bartholomew about winning the World Press Photo of the Year (2005 interview): “I had been photographing from a young age of 16, as a documentary photographer, and in 1976, at the age of 19, I won my first World Press [Photo] award for a picture story on morphine addicts. At that time, I was too far away and disconnected from the European and US picture magazines. In the following years, I had to abandon doing documentary work and I moved to Mumbai (Bombay) to work as a stills photographer in Bollywood and then I also started doing advertising and corporate work. It was in 1983 that I was able to find a photo agency to work with: the Gamma-Liaison Network. And with this link to the photo agency, that I kept for over 18 years, in 1984 came the news via a telegram that I had won the ‘Picture of the Year Award’. It put me on the map of the world of photojournalism.” Pablo Bartholomew about the effect of the award on his career (2005 interview): “The Bhopal image became an icon of the world’s worst industrial disaster after it won the World Press Photo of the Year 1984 in 1985. So, in that sense, I am gratified that I have an image to which so much is attributed. It symbolizes so many things to different people. It is the tragedy of a family who lost their child. It is the negative face of capitalism and the ugliness that comes with industrial greed and exploitative practices. It is an image of science fiction coming true. Like that of special effects in a movie, the eyes stare out at you and they have a message; A message that, when you look at the image, decodes differently in each one of us. It has to do with our own awareness and consciousness, of guilt and of helplessness and many more emotions and thoughts in others that I will never know of.”
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