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At Biennale, Photographer Vicky Roy Shows the Bleak Reality of Life

In Kochi
February 12, 2019

Born in a small village of eastern India, Vicky Roy went on to become a widely acknowledged photographer. He ran away from his rustic Bengal home at the age of 11 and worked as a rag picker in the metropolis of Delhi, where life took a turn for the better.

Today, the 31-year-old artist is one of the most successful lensmen around, serving as an inspiration to children and adults. Currently, the youngster’s art is being showcased at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

There are two of his works at the main Aspinwall House venue in Fort Kochi. ‘Street Dreams’ is one, the other being ‘This Scarred Land: New Mountainscapes’. Both initiate difficult dialogues on disempowerment and the price of capitalist desire.

While the former is a human series, the other follows a non-human theme. Juxtaposing, they seek to showcase a similarity between India’s impoverished children and the country’s endangered natural ecosystems. Both are vulnerable to the country’s larger socio-political forces. “The high-contrast black-and-white works heightens the resilience and pathos of the other,” notes the Delhi-based artist, who was rehabilitated as a teenager by the Salaam Baalak Trust, an NGO that works for street kids.

In ‘Street Dreams’, the artist captures street children performing daily activities in train stations. Heaps of trash amid basic infrastructure provide an alternative reading of the city’s civic life. “I started photographing these children in 2005 hoping to capture their spirit along with their circumstances,” shares Vicky who was awarded the MIT Media Fellowship in 2014. “To be true, these children also remind me of my difficult past.”

Even though, Vicky knows how tough it is to live in the streets, his lens turns focus largely to capture the children’s innocent dreams and shining optimism. “My aim is show the positive aspects of life instead of the darker side. If I could come out of the difficulties and become successful, I believe anyone could do it,” he says.

The ‘This Scarred Land: New Mountainscapes’ series reflects the changing landscape of the mountain ranges of Himachal Pradesh. “The images capture the losing battle between the trees, rocks, rivers and other constitutive elements of the landscape with industrial invasion through the intervention of another powerful technology- the still camera,” says Vicky, who studied photography at Delhi Triveni Kala Sangam and then did an apprenticeship under portrait photographer Anay Mann.

His stark depictions go by a vast range: from the stunningly beautiful to the sacred to even the ruins of colonial outposts and Nehru-era industrial projects. “I do not aim to shock the viewers or push them to look at the reality by painting a bleak picture of despair through my work. Instead of confrontation, I try to portray the realities of life in a sublime way,” says the photographer, who was in 2008 selected by the US-based Maybach Foundation to photo-document the reconstruction of the World Trade Center. During that New York stint, he simultaneously undertook a course in documentary photography at the International Center for Photography, New York.