CHENNAI: Delhi-based photographer Vicky Roy has tasted the tests of survival, perhaps why he is rooted to his humble beginnings. Despite having success by his side, Vicky, who is a recipient of the INK fellowship, has been a speaker at a TEDxGateway conference, and has hosted multiple solo photography exhibitions, knows better than to get carried away. He teaches photography to children at various NGOs, runs an open library for photography enthusiasts and plans to do much more.
Though Vicky prefers to be known for his photography, one can hardly separate the remarkable story behind his rise. From living a life of impoverished drudgery to being one of the four people selected to document the reconstruction of the World Trade Centre at New York through the Wilhelm & Karl Maybach Foundation project, at just 26, he has come a long way.
From a street urchin to a respectable member of his trade, Vicky isn’t just a miracle child but an inspiration to many. His tale, he shares, begins in West Bengal where he was staying with his grandparents. Forced to work, the precocious child ran away from home and jumped on to the first train he could find. He was just 11 years old. “I used to stay at my grandparents’ home where I was made to do a lot of work. It curbed my dreams of travelling, so I stole some money from my uncle’s pocket and took a train to Delhi.” However, once in Delhi, survival became a task. With no place to stay or any idea of where he was, despair naturally set in. “I was crying in a corner at the railway station when some boys spotted me and understood I was a runway. They took me to a Salaam Baalak’s shelter which takes in homeless children,” recalls Vicky.
However, in just a day, Vicky found the shelter too constricting and ran away again. “I went back to the railway station and explained my situation to the boys. With their help, I started selling water bottles to passengers. But I still wasn’t happy with the dividends that the work paid, and instead I joined a dhaba as a helper,” narrates Vicky.
As fate would have it, a member of the Salaam Baalak visited the dhaba Vicky was working at and offered to help with his education. Though not really interested in being schooled, he acceded and re-joined another branch of Salaam Baalak, which unlike his former home, did not impose restrictions on residents’ movements.
Nevertheless, his disinterest in education reflected in his Class X results where he scored only 48 per cent. “AK Tiwari, the coordinator of Apna Ghar shelter of Salaam Baalak, suggested that I learn some skill. At that time a photography workshop was conducted at our shelter and speakers of the workshop visited Indonesia for work. So I figured maybe I would get an opportunity to travel if I learnt photography,” shares Vicky about the starting point of his current career.
Through Tiwari, Vicky got the opportunity to assist Anay Mann who guided the youngster on the craft. “He used to teach me photography very patiently and I started taking pictures. He even exhibited some of my work at his photo exhibition, which was visited by a British Deputy High Commission member. The diplomat pointed to my photograph and enquired who took it. Upon learning that it was my work, he offered to exhibit my work.”
With financial assistance from British Deputy High Commission and the Department of International Development, Vicky managed his first exhibition titled ‘Street Dreams’. From then on, as they say, there was no looking back. The modest youngster has since opened an open library for photography enthusiasts through his initiative Rang, which he formed along with fellow photographer Chandhan Gomes. “Books about the art are very costly, so we requested photographers to donate books about the subject and stacked them at an open library managed by Rang, where people can walk in and read any time.” Vicky also makes it a point to carry a set of 100 books where ever he goes and conducts a workshop and arranges a mobile library.
“In my workshops, we charge a nominal fee from people who cannot afford the entire fee,” he says. To give back to the home which gave him shelter, he teaches photography skills to children of a similar background to his. “I intend to continue teaching children who are interested in photography,” shares the youngster, who also arranges talks by other photographers. Since becoming a professional lensman, his ambition as a child of travelling and seeing the world has been realised. Vicky has travelled to the United States, United Kingdom, Bahrain and Singapore, but says his journeys have only just begun.