Jatras, fluorosis and beyond: This 30-year-old photographer explores the heartlands of Telangana and brings its plight into sharp focus

Vinod Venkapalli might be from Hyderabad but his heart resides in rural Telangana. He urges us to knock off those rose-coloured glasses and see the country-side of the state in a completely new light
This is after a ritual which is done to get blessed with kids. The women stick to the outer walls of the temple and pray. This is an effect of hysteria during the process | (Pic: Vinod Venkapalli)
This is after a ritual which is done to get blessed with kids. The women stick to the outer walls of the temple and pray. This is an effect of hysteria during the process | (Pic: Vinod Venkapalli)

When the double standards of his desk job got to him, Vinod Venkapalli pleaded with his parents for two years before he plunged right into photography. First stop? India's fluorosis (overexposure to fluoride) capital Nalgonda. Varanasi, Calcutta, Bombay — the 30-year-old would go wherever he had friends to welcome him. But it was Telangana that he wanted to keep coming back to. "In Nalgonda, I happened to talk to a teacher with fluorosis, Vakiti Peddulu. Ironically, I went back after a few years and shot his funeral. There were over 10-15 fluorosis patients I had spoken to, out of them, about five are no more," says Vinod who has seen death at close quarters multiple times. Also, his experience of shooting jatras, starting from Medaram, has stayed with him. These processions of festive mass gatherings are high on energy, and sometimes violence. This is what his project For the Promised Heaven in the Sky is all about.

Villagers angry at their own people for signing their lands off to the government. This is in Mallannasagar, village Etigadda Kishtapur | (Pic: Vinod Venkapalli)

Vinod also effectively captured draughts in Mahabubnagar, Medak and Adilabad districts. After that it was all about connecting the dots, draughts were leading to crop failure and construction of dams, which was displacing people. The story started to unfold tragically and Vinod was documenting it all at the same time, revealing in the hospitality offered by even the remotest villages of Telangana, who would offer him food and refreshments at every stop. "For a privileged city guy like me, my journeys to the rural areas have really opened up the worldview for me," says Vinod who has shifted base to Mumbai last week, but will keep visiting the City of Nizams, which he will always call home. The whole point for this photographer, who is the recipient of the Toto Photography Award 2019, is to take pictures that he has never seen. "People have stopped reacting to images now because certain kinds of photographs keep repeating themselves. For example, a man sitting on dry land to depict drought. I have come to understand that staging gives the kind of freedom for you to tell a better story," he explains.

Vinod | (Pic: Vinod Venkapalli)

Vinod plans on visiting Vidarbha in Maharashtra soon to start a new project there. "Photography is great, but it can be limiting. I am working on videos and signing up for writing workshops as well. I want to be able to tell a story much more effectively," says Vinod about his latest explorations. In the same way, Vinod, who has a PG in Environmental Engineering from Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad now known as IIT Dhanbad, is getting the hang of iMovie for Guldasta, a digital publication co-initiated by him that is a series of lockdown stories. "It has always been about teaching for me. Hence, I would love to take workshops, in the manner of giving back. I want to have a space of my own, a photography institution which is more socially than commercially-aligned," he says.  

More of his work

It was one of the very first images I have made and which has inspired me to take my journey forward. It was taken in Paradeep, Odisha where kids are seen playing on the oil pipelines | (Pic: Vinod Venkapalli)

This is from the funeral of Vakiti Peddulu, one of many whom I knew and met while working on fluorosis in Nalgonda district. Fluorosis was my first documentary work | (Pic: Vinod Venkapalli)

Thirsting for water | (Pic: Vinod Venkapalli)

For more on them, check out vinodbabu.com

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