Rag picker to Celebrity Photographer
“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no help at all.”
- Dale Carnegie
Where there is a will, there is a way. This proverb could well have been created keeping Vicky Roy in mind. A poor tailor’s son with six siblings, he had no resources whatsoever, especially to reach the heights that he has today as a brilliant photographer. Unfortunately, his parents were too poor to raise him. They gave him away to his grandparents when he was two years old. In pursuit of his dream, at the tender age of 13, Vicky ran away from home and set off to Delhi with 800 rupees that his mother had given him to buy cement for the ongoing construction work in the house. He slept in night shelters where he had to rent a blanket for two rupees. It continued until a gentle lady took pity on him and gave him the address of a children’s NGO, the Salam Baalak Trust (SBT), which would take care of the deprived and abandoned kids. Finally, he found a secured shelter and food. Young Vicky was feeling suffocated in closed doors. So he ran away at the earliest opportunity. Instead of returning, he started his life as a ragpicker, rummaging through the mountains of garbage and dragging out the damaged plastic products. But very soon he faced the troubles against the local ruffians who started harassing him and snatching his earnings. Disappointed and frustrated, he took up a job as a dishwasher at a local café where he worked throughout the day only for 50 rupees and spent days either without food or having guests’ leftovers. There a man found him and asked him, "Why are you working here? At your age, you should go to school," and he sent Vicky back to Salam Baalak Trust. This time he stayed, and then his life changed. Apart from attending the school, he would take care of the NGO’s young boys. "I went to school. I got good clothes and food. The environment was neat and clean. Gradually, my thinking reached a different level," recalls Vicky
Describing his entry into the world of photography, Vicky said, “In 2001, my friend participated in a photography workshop. He went to Sri Lanka and Indonesia to take photographs. When my teacher told me in Class X that my grades are not very good and that I need to study more, I said to my teacher that I want to be trained in photography because I thought as a photographer, I would get a lot of opportunities to travel.”
Dixie Benjamin, a British photographer, asked Vicky to join him as an assistant on a photoshoot around Old Delhi, documenting the atrocious lives of Delhi’s street kids. During that time, he learnt several tricks of fine photography, besides fixing the tripod for a photographer, loading camera rolls, and arranging the boisterous street kids together for a superior photo pose and travelling through the streets of Delhi. This incident is what put everything in its course. Before Dixie left for Sri Lanka, I asked a friend of mine who spoke good English, to ask Dixie on my behalf. “Dixie, my English is not good. How do I become a good photographer?” He gave me a very simple answer. “Look Vicky,” he said, “there are many Chinese and Japanese, who are good photographers. But they can’t speak English. You are an Indian, you speak Hindi and you have a passion for photography. You will become a good photographer!”
"I had never thought that I would ever reach such a high point in my life, where not only will I click such good pictures but also be on a national channel. I did not see any of this coming"
- Vicky Roy
Vicky discovered his newfound love for photography and enrolled himself at the Triveni Kala Sangam for an intensive course in it. Later, he joined famous portrait-specialist photographer, Ajay Mann, as an assistant and learnt the tricks of the trade from him. He bought a new camera with a loan from the Salam Baalak Trust. Soon Vicky made photography his profession. Streetlife and street kids became his favourite themes. His 25-odd photographs were selected by The India Habitat Gallery in New Delhi and titled it ‘Street Dreams’ and was sponsored by the British High Commission and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). He could sell seven photos at the exhibition, each for Rs.10,000, from which he purchased a digital camera for better photography and is now preparing for his second exhibition titled ‘The Widows of India’. Having called the streets his home, Vicky is now a master at capturing the street life—he treats a subject, which is so easy to sensationalise with great maturity and the sensitivity, which can be felt in his work as unparalleled.
In 2007, he held his first solo exhibition titled ‘Street Dreams’ at the India Habitat Centre, which was supported by the British High Commission. His works have been exhibited extensively in India and overseas in England and South Africa. In 2008, Ramchander Nath Foundation (RNF), a non-profit organisation, which strives to be a part of the development and restoration of the arts, nominated Vicky for a mentorship programme by the US-based Maybach Foundation (MF), through which he would work on the photo-documentation of the reconstruction of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York. Out of the numerous applications from all over the world, Vicky is among the chosen four participants and the only one from South Asia. This was a six-month residency programme. On his return, he held his second solo show in Delhi. Vicky is now a part of Mission Cover Shot – National Geographic Channel’s brand-new show in the Mission series. Vicky is one of the top five finalists on the show, all of whom are amateur photographers. The show captures their journey as they battle it out for the perfect shot based on their skill, creativity, fortitude and sheer brilliance. The winner of the show will get an opportunity to have their photograph on the cover of the iconic National Geographic Magazine. About the show, Vicky says, “I had never thought that I would ever reach such a high point in my life, where not only will I click such good pictures but also be on a national channel. I did not see any of this coming.” Despite his troubled past, Vicky has made it this far in life and has proved to be an inspiration for several street children. With his work, he hopes to help the disadvantaged by giving them a voice through his photography and show them that through hard work and dedication, anything can be achieved.
Vicky is a real-life example of courage, resilience and effective mentorship. He is an inspiration for everyone out there, whoever dreamed of something they thought was out of their reach. He has proved that with hard work and determination, a man can raise himself up from obscurity to great levels of success.