It’s been three years since a skatepark was built in an obscure village in central India. Or, if one actually made the long-yet-picturesque trip to Janwaar in Madhya Pradesh, in the middle of nowhere. The facility, called Janwaar Castle, has raised a new generation of rural changemakers, who have left an impression on the rest of the country and across the world with their enthusiasm and talent. And each time they roll out on a skateboard, this bunch takes on the onus of bringing about change around them.
Almost from day one Vicky Roy was part of this journey. He came for the first time when the kids were hardly able to stand firm on their boards and over time he has seen them slowly grow to become some of India’s best skateboarders. I think what attracted him and made him return time and again ever since was his own story. His own past. He shares common ground with these kids. The Barefoot Skateboarders in Janwaar now have an opportunity, for the first time a choice in their lives – and they seize their chances. Just as Vicky did growing up in the shelter home of the Salam Ballack Trust where a young English photographer took him under his wing and taught him how to “click pictures”.
What was once a closed environment, resistant to any change coming its way, is today an open sandbox, ready for experimentation and moving in a direction that hopes to set an example for other similar rural communities. Janwaar, this tiny little village in rural Madhya Pradesh, has become a beacon for change all over India and a source of inspiration for many young people. And Vicky’s photographs have played an absolutely vital role in this unfolding story. Not only have they helped me finance a water project – “Photos for Water” – which now provides drinking water all year round for one part of the village. Vicky’s photos have also given Janwaar’s process of transformation a definite face, an unmistakable visual identity. In a very powerful way, the expressions on the kids’ faces Vicky captures in his photos show how they’ve seized their chances, how determined they are, how committed and how free. Off the leash. They glide. They fly. They dive into this new adventure wholeheartedly and goodness how they do enjoy it! They spread optimism and positive energy. And this is exactly what Vicky’s photos convey.
And they make the kids and the villagers proud. This pride should not be underestimated because taking pride in what you’re doing is a very important element in driving forward the process of change. Now the villagers have something tangible they can call “their own”. They’ve found common ground, they’ve found an identity. I could see this so clearly when I showed them our book “REMOTE. The Rural Changemakers of Janwaar”, which is filled with Vicky’s photographs. When they saw themselves in the book – big smiles and expressions of immense satisfaction came into their faces. It was like a celebration.
But Vicky’s Janwaar photos are also unflinchingly honest up front photos. No make up, no retouching, very pure. And they are shameless, showing life directly as it is for these kids with no shoes and hardly any clothes. All of this stands in huge contrast to the usual kind of otherwise rather “hip”, rather “cool” fashion photos that take skateboarding as their theme. Vicky’s photos live from this unusual tension between rural / traditional on the one hand and urban / hip on the other! They deeply express what skateboarding is giving to these kids and how their lives are enriched by it. For your unflagging commitment, enthusiasm, empathy and support, but above all for your superb photographic skills, thank you Vicky!