Bed-Stuy's Instagram Activist Tells Stories of 'Forgotten People'

By Paul DeBenedetto on November 21, 2013 1:06pm 

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 Roddy Roye, 43, is a professional photographer and storyteller in Bed-Stuy.
Ruddy Roye is Bed-Stuy's Instagram Activist
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — There's the story about Harry, a 61-year-old man in pain who struggles to get his disability check. Or Daniel, a photographer who says his work was stolen. Or the one about Andrew, an ex-Marine struggling with addiction and looking for work.

Each of these stories is illustrated with one photo, uploaded to an Instagram account that has amassed more than 45,000 followers, from a man who calls himself an "Instagram Activist."

Ruddy Roye, 43, is a professional photographer in Bed-Stuy who for the last few months documented what he calls society's "forgotten people."

"I know where the shelters are, I know where the food lines are," Roye said. "My stories are about people going out there every day, trying to find different ways of surviving."

Born in Jamaica, Roye studied at Baltimore's Goucher College for four years in 1994, moved back to his homeland then finally settled in New York in 2001.

Roye, who said he comes from "a line of griots," or storytellers, learned his craft by sitting around the table with his family.

"We would all sit around, telling stories that are older than my grandparents," Roye said. "So for me it's in my blood to tell stories I see on a day-to-day basis."

The photographer started using Instagram last year when he noticed a friend snap a photo and upload it to the web. The immediacy of the app was what initially drew him in, Roye said.

As a professional photographer, Roye said there would be periods when noone would see his work. With Instagram, he was able to receive instant feedback on everything he shot.

But with that wider audience came a responsibility to tell the stories of the people he was shooting. This summer, Roye started writing mini-stories in the caption section of each photograph.

"I just found that people had something to say," Roye said. "Walking away without hearing that person's voice felt empty to me."

Now, Roye has told more than 2,735 stories via text or photo as of Thursday morning, and was recently a featured photographer on Instagram's website

The feedback he's gotten from the public has been almost unanimously positive.

"What is beauty? This is beauty," said Instagram user Linda Smith. "I think you are sharing with everybody the real beauty of a normal human being."

"Is there any way to take photography classes from you???" read another comment, from user Yennio Navas.

That feedback is humbling for Roye, but mostly the photographer said he wants to cultivate a level of understanding between New Yorkers from all walks of life.

"I want to give a little vignette of who this person is," Roye said. "I would love to know the stories I'm telling help others understand the meaning of community."

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