Lakshmi Krupa speaks with the poet Anupama Raju about a collaboration with photographer Pascal Bernard that captures the spirit of two towns, Puducherry and La Rochelle.

Indian Poet Anupama Raju and French photographer Pascal Bernard’s collaborative effort Une Ville, Un Lieu, Une Personne (One City, One Place, One Person) explores the nature of a place by looking into the nature of the people who live in it. Alliance Française de Pondichéry and Le Centre Intermondes, La Rochelle, have sponsored this project in a bid to build a cultural connection between the two towns: one off the Bay of Bengal in India and the other, off the Bay of Biscay in France.

“The programme was kick-started in 2011 with a small residency in Puducherry,” Anupama says. Frenchman Pascal’s pictures came first and Trivandrum-based Anupama took nearly eight months to write the poems that would accompany each of these pictures. However, she went along with the photographer to meet his subjects every day. “Pascal had a list of 28 people he wanted to shoot. These included local celebrities, artistes and everyday people,” Anupama says. “There were days when we would be on our way to shoot someone from Pascal’s list, but on our way we would meet someone interesting and they would also become our subjects.” “We call the work a ‘Tryptique’ — consisting of pictures, a poem in English and its French translation, along with a Tamil sentence or word,” she adds.

“I took a little bit of help from some friends just to ensure I got the translation right,” says the poet whose work with Alliance Francaise landed her this project. “We also decided to add one Tamil word or sentence to each triptyque, because that way we would cover all three official languages of Puducherry — Tamil, English and French.” Pascal took his subjects to their favourite locations in the town and photographed them there. Anupama was meeting new people every day on the project and that turned out to be fodder for her creative process. “Puducherry is a very distinct place in the country. The only other place it reminds me of is Goa. They both have such varied influences and culture.”

“In a way, Pascal and I both discovered Puducherry through this project,” Anupama says. Une Ville, Un Lieu, Une Personne has been exhibited in a few French towns as well as in India during 2012. “Though each poem accompanies a picture, it had also to make sense on its own, just as the picture works on its own,” Anupama says.

In La Rochelle, the second leg of the project, Anupama will write the poems first and Pascal will shoot pictures using her work as inspiration. “In a way, this makes it a complete creative process. The entire first phase is reversed and it will give us more scope, as artistes, to understand the space and explore it through our craft,” Anupama says.