My work- travel gets me to meet some very fantastic people at times. I have come across people like Anna Hazare, Richard Branson, Julia Roberts, sporting icons etc. But one of them stands way apart in terms of his story, grit, determination & most importantly, the extent to which Vicky Roy inspired me.
I met photographer Vicky Roy at IIT Kanpur where I was invited for a TEDx Talk as a Motivational Speaker & we became friends immediately. We had a really good time – late night conversations, sharing a light banter, driving to Lucknow – we made the best of the two days. His story is so inspiring for me that I felt too tempted to share with you. If this does not egg you on to be awesome, what else will?
His story in brief:
Vicky Roy is a rag picker turned a world famous photographer. He ran away from home at the tender age of 11 & ended up becoming a rag picker at Delhi Station. After a few years; he was invited to Buckingham Palace for lunch because of his awesome photographic skills. This small blog post would not do justice to his journey but in a nutshell – in the last 15 yrs, he has overcome poverty, become a wonderful photographer, became an INK Fellow, launched his own book ‘Home Street Home’, won a fellowship at the prestigious MIT Media Lab, photographed the reconstruction of World Trade Center & accomplished many more personal & professional battles. And yet, what blows me off most is his ever smiling face, humility & zeal for life.
How did it all begin? Why did you run away? Tell us about your early days of struggle.
My parents couldn’t afford to raise me so I was left at my grandparents’ & they used to mistreat me, make me do a lot of work. One day I stole some money & ran way. Took the 1st train on the station & reached Delhi. Some rag picker kids spotted me crying & took me with them. I did odd jobs like selling water bottles on the station & washing dishes at a dhaba to earn a living. Then I got shelter in Salaam Balak Trust & got a chance to study. I wasn’t really good at it so my coordinator asked me to change fields. I did and now I am here! I got re-united with my parents. They are very happy about the journey I have traveled. I feel proud that I can now afford good education for my sisters.
Why Photography? Did you know you wanted to be one? Tell us about your journey with the lens so far.
No. Photography happened due to greed. There was a photography workshop at the Trust & the winner got to visit Sri Lanka & Indonesia. I wanted to travel too. So I told my coordinator that I wanted to be a photographer. They gave me Kodak B10 & I clicked my friends from the shelter. I had British photographer Dixie Benjamin as my mentor for a year but I never understood a single word. I didn’t know English. When he was leaving, I asked him if I could be a good photographer as I didn’t speak English. His reply changed my life. He said, “Many Japanese, Chinese, French photographers don’t know English but they are good. You are an Indian. You speak Hindi. You have a good eye.” Then I came under the mentorship of Anay Mann & life hasn’t been same since. The WTC opportunity happened through a contest.
Which was the hardest part of the struggle?
The hardest part for me, was not my rag picking days but the time just after I joined Anay Mann. My salary was Rs 3000 & he gave me a phone & a bike too. But my struggle was far from over. The salary was enough to just survive in Delhi but not enough to indulge in even a single luxury. I couldn’t afford to shop or hang out with friends. I would look at my roommates with jealousy whenever they showed off their fashionable clothes. I shopped at Chor Bazaar but couldn’t afford that very often either. I used to wear the same t-shirt to work every day.
How did you manage then?
I reduced my expenses. I realized that showing off my clothes does not make my identity. If I cannot afford to buy good clothes, I need to make myself able to do so. I never indulged in unfair means to earn more money. My parents had taught me better than that. I focused on the thing that was most important to me at that time. And I didn’t need fancy clothes or hanging out with friends for that.
What advice would you give to the young photographers today?
Anay Mann told me on the very first day, “Don’t come to me till you have clicked a 1000 pictures.” By the time I did 1000, I got a good hang of photography. You are the best teacher you can have. Remember, there truly are no rules in photography. Try different things. Experiment. There are more ways of doing something in a better way than you can think of!
I get a lot of emails & messages from students saying that they are not getting what they want from life. What would be your advice to them?
I would say, don’t quit. If you do not have a job of your liking, pick something that can assure some security & keep looking for what you love. Sometimes, dreams are important but responsibilities are important too! If you can keep your passion; dreams will come true one day or the other. They happened for me.
What is the biggest lesson life has taught you?
There are big lessons. Not one but many. My mentors taught me not to trust someone’s promises but my own ability to work hard. I also realized that as youngsters, it is our responsibility to change the world & figure out the next level. For e.g: I am tired of listening to ‘documentary photo shoot’ even though my book is also one. I am looking at what could be the next level in photography. Keep re-inventing yourself, keep learning. There is no end to learning. I am also glad I did not run after money. My motto was – “Pehle naam kamaao. Paise apne aap aa jayenge”
But my biggest lesson would be – “Never stop working. And don’t make excuses for not working. I see people saying things like, “Someone is sick, I can’t work / Someone died, I am depressed.” All this keeps happening. You cannot stop because you are sad. Instead, if you keep working, you will remain debt free & there will be much less tension. “Bass kaam karo. Kuch bhi ho jaye”
Vicky Roy- May you achieve all your dreams & continue to inspire lakhs of us with your ever sharpening story.
You can know about his story in detail from his book ‘Home Street Home’.
You may also want to check out: 9 Awesome Inspirational Blogs I Never Fail to Follow for more people like Vicky Roy to inspire all your self-doubts out of you! This one life is pretty short. It would be a waste to pity yourself. Never do that!