PDN Photo of the Day

For The Promised Heaven In The Sky

Vinod Babu’s “For the Promised Heaven in the Sky” centers around spiritual festivals and rituals in his home state of Telegnana in India. The work is showing at the India Photo Festival in Hyderabad and is up there until October 20, 2019.

It’s a journal of sorts, filled with emotion, melancholia, enchantment and beautifully layered images. Some images are extraordinarily still, drawing you inwards – other’s incredibly powerful and loud.

Babu worked in the corporate sector for few years before he found his calling in photography. He has a long history with the Indian photo festival in Hyderabad – helping them organize it in the beginning stages and attending every workshop he possibly could. The festival celebrated its 5th edition this year. He’s “grown with them”, he said.

He answered some questions about his project on display there this year:

PDN: Can you tell us a little about “For the Promised Heaven in the Sky” and where the title comes from?
Vinod Babu: “This work is basically about what people from my state (Telangana) do to please the gods, in return for a better present and future. While brainstorming a suitable title, I wrote down a lot of keywords in this context and co-incidentally I chanced upon a similar phrase while reading a poem. I finally chose the name ‘For the Promised Heaven in the Sky’, which I fitted well with the images I thought.”

PDN: What drew you to the project to start with?
VB: “I was mainly shooting single images at that time and I happened to go to a religious place called ‘Medaram’ and I experienced something that I had never experienced before. I was totally overcome – experiencing pain, pathos, tears and misery. I became very curious about why people get emotional in such places and what they really need. That is how I ended up going to many such places across the span of the next four years. “

PDN: How long have you been working on it?
VB: “I worked on it between 2013-2017. Though I’ve technically stopped it’s always in the back of my head. I want to now go back and work more in depth on individual communities of people that attend such gatherings.”

PDN: Was access easy? Were people acceptable of you taking images?
VB: “Access to the core area like the prayer spots etc. was difficult, but access to the rest was pretty easy. I think I was always very happily accepted. I can’t recall a single moment when I was stopped from taking a photograph. Also, I shot this entire body of work with a heavy DSLR and a big heavy lens so people were very much aware of my presence. I personally shoot a scene for a long time and I often have a dialogue with the people before or after photographing them. I try and become one with them, without which capturing something of this magnitude becomes a mere outsider’s superficial account.

PDN: How did you choose what to include and what not to?
VB: I personally chose to document ‘innocence and melancholy’ as that is what drew me to their world. So, I was always only focusing on something that made me uncomfortable, something that puzzled me and something that made me wonder, why?

PDN: What did you enjoy most working on this project?
VB: These are people of my own state, which is a newly formed state in India. I have been brought up in a city setting, and have never had a chance to interact with my more rural surroundings. This work, made me go closer to the people. I shared my stories with them and they shared theirs with me. This is what I enjoyed the most. Whenever I went there it felt like home. A place in which no one would judge as everyone openly exposed their vulnerabilities and become naked from within with each other.

PDN: Is the project finished – or do you have further plans for it?
VB: This part of the series is finished. But, I want to work in-depth at a much more micro level with the very interesting, individual communities that are a part of these festivals.

(Interview edited for clarity)

—- Samantha Reinders

“For the Promised Heaven in the Sky”
Vinod Babu
India Photo Fesitval
State Art Gallery, Madhapur, India
Through 20 October, 2019

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