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Lessons from Ground Zero

Lessons from Ground Zero
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First Published: Fri, Jan 29 2010. 12 21 AM IST

Vicky Roy, 23, hails from West Bengal and was living on the streets in Delhi when he was rescued by the Salaam Baalak Trust and housed in one of their homes in the Capital. Roy then trained in professional photography at the Triveni Kala Sangam in New Delhi and apprenticed with the photographer, Anay Mann. Nominated by the Ramchander Nath Foundation, Roy photographed the reconstruction of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York from March to August as part of a mentorship project run by the US-based Maybach Foundation. An exhibition of his photographs, WTC: Now, will feature 36 of his works, including shots of the World Trade Center site and photographs of his wanderings around the city. Edited excerpts from an interview:
How did the WTC project come about?
Anubhav Nath (of the Ramchander Nath Foundation) had seen the first exhibition of my photographs, Street Dreams, in 2007 in Delhi and when the Maybach Foundation contacted him, looking for people from disadvantaged backgrounds who could be a part of the WTC project, he nominated me. I sent my photographs and was selected as one of the 10 finalists. Then I was asked to shoot sample photos of construction sites and send them to New York. I shot sites in Delhi and sent six pictures. This was followed by a couple of video interviews from New York, and then I was finally selected.
Tell us about the project.
The idea behind this programme of photographing the ongoing reconstruction at the site of the World Trade Center was to give persons of disadvantaged backgrounds an opportunity. As part of the programme, I went to New York and studied at the International Center of Photography (ICP) for six months. I was also registered for English language classes there. I feel I already knew many things about photography, but there I was taught in a step-by-step, systematic manner.
Was there anything you learnt about the craft and technique of photography?
In India we rely on jugaad (quick fixes). But over there they do it the right way. For instance, if there is a shoot scheduled for two days from today, they will check the weather and the light conditions in advance. They do things in a particular way—such as make a list of things to do ahead of the shoot.
What was your experience of shooting at the WTC reconstruction site?
We got very little time at the site—once a week, for 2 hours only. I had taken mostly street pictures earlier and having seen such work by other photographers, I felt that I might have been influenced by the images I had seen. But I had never seen a construction site before, so all the shots taken are mine. People had suggested that I look at photography books with images from construction sites in advance but I avoided that as I didn’t want to get influenced.
What was your approach to shooting at the WTC site?
It is like a documentary, you want to show all aspects of what is going on—take wide-angle shots to show how big the site is; capture various details; show the difference in construction practices over there and here; and highlight the importance safety is accorded over there.
What was different about the construction practices in New York?
The importance of safety—of shoes, helmets and gloves. When there is welding going on, everyone at the site there has to wear goggles—even if you are not doing the welding yourself. While I was in New York, I would read about the Metro mishaps happening in Delhi. If something bad happens once, you learn your lessons and make sure that the mistakes are not repeated. Not so here (in India). I saw a worker in Delhi talking on TV and he was asked about safety. He said that the government had determined that he was worth Rs5 lakh—if anything were to happen to him, his family would get Rs5 lakh.
How was your experience of going overseas for the first time?
I was afraid of being interrogated by the immigration people at the airport in America, so I was nervous. But they were nice and that went off smoothly. Then the Customs stopped me, took my papers and asked me to sit. Once they had seen the papers, they escorted me till the gate outside, and once I was in the car, I was like, “Yes! I am in New York!” I was put up in a nice apartment in Manhattan. When I tell people that, they say they are very jealous.
Your future plans?
For now, I want to focus on art photography and not do too much commercial photography. I want to work with and see the works of big artists. That’s the way to learn.
WTC: Now opens at 7pm on Thursday, 28 January, at The American Center, 24, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, New Delhi.
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First Published: Fri, Jan 29 2010. 12 21 AM IST