Sebastian Cortés says he likes combining words with photographs because he is a frustrated writer

Photographer Sebastian Cortés’s recently launched coffee-table book Pondicherry is nostalgic, without being obvious.

“Even though,” he says, “for me it is the obvious because I live there, so I try to find out what’s interesting in the obvious.”

He feels that working on the book, which is composed of his photographs of the inner recesses of Puducherry (Pondicherry) alongside writings by Pascal Bruckner, Akash Kapur, and Amin Jaffer, was challenging because it was done in his spare time. That was partly why the project was based nearby.

“Second, it was important that I had access to the locations I wanted to shoot in, which were mainly homes and I had a lot of interesting contacts with people that were very willing to help me out. The French community was enthused by someone taking interest at various levels of ideas trying to make a project that was not just photogenic but also anthropological.”

The project took over five years to complete since it was done in spare time and also because artistic photography is third on his priority list, with fashion photography and travel photography (respectively) taking the lead.

“I don’t snub commercial photography, I think that there can be a balance between both. What I like about fashion is that it’s total fantasy, total pageantry, where the photographer is playing. There is a certain pressure and worry, but it’s still wonderful because of the pageantry,” he explains.

“Whereas artistic photography is a continuous process. Galleries and publishers always come into the picture and so there is a constant worry even though there is recognition. Then again there is there is economic recognition in the commercial world.”

Balancing the two, he observes, is a discipline that requires a certain training that comes only from experience. His experience has also given him the skill to work with guidelines, to let the moment unfold, rather than work with a tightly controlled creative process. Sebastian has employed this form of “straight photography” in his Pondicherry series.

“I did not plan anything. I was trying not to push forward a specific agenda, except that I wanted to get in there. Then I just let the dynamic reveal itself because I wanted to get as close to the truth, if it exists. The moment you point a camera one way or another, the moment you adulterate the image with pose-production, the truth slyly and slowly disappears.”

This form of photography, is a part of his conscious intent to remain contemporary, not in the sense of style, but in the method. At the same time Sebastian also intends to remain nostalgic in mood. Many facets of his work with Pondicherry will be reflected in his upcoming book on Sidhpur, a “sleepy, forgotten” town in Gujarat. This project too, like Pondicherry, will involve a book.

“I am a frustrated writer, like I’m a frustrated architect. I admire people who can write and I like to see how I can motivate the process of writing, the fantasy of writing and the mechanism of writing, with my work. In this project, for instance, I told these authors that I was interested in having a collaboration but I would want them to look at the images and see if they wanted to collaborate with me,” he shares.

“I like that recognition and that moment of contact. I like to see what intelligent people, who have been assigned the role of intellectuals, react. I want them to react only from the images and if they do, that’s great and they don’t need to take the plunge if they don’t.”

An exhibition of his photographs on Pondicherry “Sebastian Cortés: Pondicherry” will be on display at Cinnamon, 11 Walton Road, off Lavelle Road until November 30.

For details, contact 022-22048138.