In Mumbai, A Fresh Take on Ground Zero

One of Vicky Roy's images from the exhibition WTC: Now. (Vicky Roy/Wilhelm & Karl Maybach Foundation)

MUMBAI, September 8, 2009 - Indian photographer Vicky Roy presented his series WTC: Now, which documents the rebuilding of New York City's World Trade Center site, at the Bodhi Art gallery here, and described the working conditions at Ground Zero in a conversation with Anubhav Nath of the Ramchander Nath Foundation. 

Roy admitted that he felt especially lucky to be allowed inside the World Trade Center construction site, where he found the workers to be "very honest" and "hardworking." How did they react to having a foreign photographer in their midst? It depended on the day, Roy said. On some days, the workers were in a good mood, and approached him to have their pictures taken, while at other times, they were preoccupied or surly, and would snap at Roy for photographing them.

Over the course of his stay in New York, Roy was in regular touch with Nath, who had mentored the young photographer in his capacity as co-founder of the Ramchander Nath Foundation, a New Delhi organization dedicated to artistic development and restoration in a variety of media. Roy mentioned to Nath over the phone that his "co-prodigy" Nicole Tung, a young woman from Hong Kong, accompanied him every day to the World Trade Center site. Nath explained, "Vicky’s work in portraiture had been very strong earlier, and he would send me the best shots from his week—every week I would get about 20 shots from him. [I asked Vicky] 'Why are you not doing stronger portraiture work?' "Apparently, the workers on the site were more eager to pose for Nicole. Nath said, “[Vicky told me] when Nicole goes, all the workers want to be with her!" Nath assured him that this would be the case on construction sites the world over.

Roy's own back story gives him a special feel for the urban milieu. He lived on the street and worked as a ragpicker and dishwasher before being taken in by the Salaam Baalak Trust, a nonprofit that provides food and shelter for homeless children. Pursuing his interest in photography, Roy enrolled in photography classes at Triveni Kala Sangram in New Delhi, and apprenticed with professional fashion photographer Anay Mann. In 2007, he held his first solo exhibition, Street Dream, at India Habitat Centre.

During his stay in New York, however, Roy chose not to divulge his own story with anyone, stating simply, "I was just there working professionally," and adding that he was intent on making his name as a photographer, not as a street-kid success story.

Roy's next project, Better Life, takes as its subject young people from Salaam Balaak Trust homes across India. Roy said he chose the subject because, simply, "Now my life is better."

WTC: Now was presented by the Asia Society India Centre, and Roy’s images were created as part of the World Trade Center Documentary Arts Project, sponsored by the Wilhelm & Karl Maybach Foundation and Silverstein Properties. 

Slideshow: WTC: Now

Reported by Madeline Gressel, Asia Society India Centre