Photographer Vicky Roy talks to us about how his life panned out through sheer hard work and support from his mentors
At the age of 11, Vicky Roy fled from his home in Purulia, West Bengal and reached New Delhi, where he spent a year picking plastic bottles at railway stations and, subsequently, working in a dhaba. In 1999, Salaam Baalak Trust, an NGO that helps street children, took Roy under its care, educated him and presented him with various opportunities. During this period, he was fortunate to meet Dixie Benjamin, a British photographer, who made Roy his assistant on a photo shoot around Salaam Baalak Trust. Eventually, Roy went on to pursue his passion for photography and, in 2005, he started working under the guidance of portrait-specialist photographer, Anay Mann. He held his first exhibition, “Street Dream”, in 2007.
A year later, in 2008, Ramchander Nath Foundation (RNF), a not-for-profit organisation which strives to be a think-tank on development and restoration of arts, nominated Roy for a mentorship program by the U.S. based Maybach Foundation (MF), for his photo documentation of the reconstruction of World Trade Center in New York. He was among the four participants to be selected for this six-month residency program.
Today, his photography monograph, ‘Home Street Home’, has been published by Nazar Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes photographic arts and was released in September 2013. He is currently a freelance photographer who helps the disadvantaged by giving them get a voice through his photographs. Roy’s dream is to redefine the opinion a common man has about street children and to have his name inscribed amongst the few great photographers who exist across the globe. His biggest lesson: do not let appreciation of good work get to your head. Just continue to work.
In this freewheeling conversation with Poornima Kavlekar of The Smart CEO, Roy shares anecdotes from his life’s journey.
What led you to believe that you have an eye for photography?
When I started off, I didn’t have much experience. My only aim was to click good photos. It was my first mentor, Dexie Benjamin, who saw those photographs and said that I have a good eye for photography and must pursue it.
What inspires you to take photographs?
The camera is my language. I express myself through my photos in any project that I take up. When I undertake a personal project, which is typically for social good, my pictures depict the life of other street people. The way I see it, I am unable to give them financial assistance, but, through my photographs, I can portray their way of life to the world. Above all, I want to inspire people who have similar backgrounds such as mine and tell them that if I can do it, any of them can.
Share your experience of travelling to the Buckingham Palace?
My dream to travel in business class was fulfilled when I went to London in 2009. My experience in Buckingham palace was great, though I did not know much about the place. All I knew was that I was going to the have lunch with the Prince. I was proud when I got there because, there were many tourists waiting outside and clicking photographs while I was inside, with the Prince, and clicking photographs of those outside.
The camera is my language. I express myself through my photos in any project that I take up. I also want to inspire people who have similar backgrounds such as mine and tell them that if I can do it, any of them can.
Yours has been a very inspiring journey to all those who aspire to make it big on their own. What is your advice to such people?
Do your work sincerely and whatever has to happen will happen. During the course of my work, I met many people who showed me big dreams and said that they would take me places. But, in reality, nothing happened. Neither did I fall under their influence. I just worked and my mentor, Anay Mann, guided me in the right path.
How did you find a sponsor for your first exhibition? And how did that exhibition help you, going forward?
When my mentor had an exhibition in 2006, I went there every single day, sat there and observed. At that time, a foreigner asked me if I was a photographer as well and wanted to see my portfolio. He appreciated my work and asked why I did not have my own exhibition. When I said it was because of lack of sponsorship, he gave me his card and asked me to send him a quote. With that and with support from the British High Commission, I held my first exhibition. It was a huge success which led me to travel to London thrice after that. It also helped me gain significant national and international exposure and eventually, led to my first break in commercial assignments.
You photo documented the reconstruction of the World Trade Center in NYC. What does this experience mean to you?
I never took part in any competition, be it during my school days or later. For the first time, Ramchander Nath Foundation sent six photographs for the competition; I won it and went to New York. Once a week, I got permission to shoot the WTC for two hours. Back then, I found it difficult to communicate with the construction workers there, because my English was not good. I could only say ‘hello’ and ‘bye’. However, after this experience, I became more confident.
What is your worst fear?
I don’t like to study. I work hard, I love to work 24 hours a day. I can shoot for several days at a stretch, but, from childhood, I’ve never liked studying and I am worried about it.
What are your future plans for budding photographers?
My friend, Chandan Gomes Vinit Gupta, and I have started a library in New Delhi, to stock photography related books. Popular photographers, whose books are very expensive and not affordable by many, contribute their books to our library. We have collected 500 books so far. Every alternate Sunday we invite a prominent photographer to our library, to address a group of 20 to 30 people, who would otherwise never get an opportunity to interact with them. We also conduct photography workshops at a nominal fee.