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During The Pandemic Photographer Ranita Roy Has Let Her Imagination Run Wild

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Photographer Ranita Roy has spent her time at home during coronavirus lockdowns in India to mine layers of emotion for her multimedia series "Take It As You Want."

Roy says throughout the pandemic she's felt different every day — from self-love and closeness to nature to longing, anxiety and fear for the future. And that's what she's tried to portray in her work.

In the series, Roy also explores her imagination — through layered amalgamations of videos, stickers and doodles. The series has a visual air of loneliness, reflective of the despondency brought on by the pandemic.

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Her series started on Instagram while she was self-isolating in her family home in Andul, a small town near Kolkata, India. Roy stayed in a rooftop room while her parents and teenage brother quarantined in the house below. Then, as the second wave spread across the country starting in spring 2021, she was living in an apartment in South Kolkata on her own, two hours away from her family. COVID case numbers have been coming down in India as more people get vaccinated, but in May, India was experiencing record infection rates, with cases topping more than 400,000 a day.

Living on her own, away from her family, through the second wave, deeply affected her work.

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During her first self-isolation, she figured she'd try to engage with photography in nontraditional ways and also create a connection with her Instagram audience during an otherwise deeply disconnected time. A year later, she created a new set of multimedia pieces that delved into her mental and emotional state as the second wave raged. This time, she was longing for her family and worried for their safety.

"Seeing the news was giving me panic attacks sometimes. I was constantly thinking about what will happen in the future," Roy says.

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Her father suffered two brain strokes in 2019 and has been paralyzed since. One morning in May of 2021, Roy got a call from home and learned he was having nerve issues; she was afraid he was growing weaker. That day was her lowest point.

The 27-year-old photographer says being alone did help her understand herself more. "I am exploring my adulthood," Roy says. "Solitude helps me to understand the importance of life and the people surrounding me." While she is on her own through new second-wave COVID-19 restrictions, she's still examining her inner world and creating art just as she did during the first.

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When people saw her Instagram stories last year, many left messages and comments saying they could relate. And for Roy, creating artwork is starting a conversation with people. People bring their own perspective. She even heard from artists like Maggie Steber, Newsha Tavakolian, Tanvi Mishra and Arati Kumar Rao.

"Photography is a kind of meditation to me," she says. "I started this project to express my thoughts and imagination about what I can't photograph or what is not in reality, only what I can imagine or wish for."

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When Roy began creating the series, she didn't expect much to come out of it. Though she was feeling lonely as she isolated, she was able to branch out and experiment artistically, using video editing apps to help enrich her work. She was struggling then. She wasn't sure how she'd make money, and she worried about her father's health. Yet, she says she never felt creatively blocked.

"I always try to use any difficult situation as an aphrodisiac in my art forms," she says.

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Roy feels that it is hard to communicate her feelings through words. It is through photography that she feels connected to her true self. She is interested in the use of videos and still images side by side and creating a space where the viewer sees existing reality in motion next to its still interpretation.

"I don't want to force anyone to understand my feelings," she says. "I want my audience to understand their own feelings with this series."

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Ranita Roy was recently shortlisted for the Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2021 and selected for the 2021 Magnum Foundation Photography and Social Justice Fellowship.

Follow her on Instagram @ranita3roy

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.