Mumbai, the city that never sleeps and is romanticized in so many ways, often has a much darker tale to tell: the one that divides the city.
Too often, the residential blocks that tower over the city with their the open sky-view lie in between the smaller shacks and shanties. And while this divide is visibly apparent in certain neighborhoods, it's best captured when it is shot from the sky.
Photographer Johnny Miller's series, Unequal Scenes, does exactly that. As part of this series, where he captures the disparity in various cities like South Africa, USA and Mexico and others, the photographer has shot the divide in Mumbai, as well.
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“Informal recyclers in Dharavi exist within sight of the National Stock Exchange, traditional fishermen moor their boats in the shadows of skyscrapers in Worli, and leopards prowl the Sanjay Ghandi National Park on the city's northern flank. In short, it's a city of contradictions.” See more of the Unequal Scenes in Mumbai on my website here: unequalscenes.com/mumbai
A post shared by Johnny Miller (@millefotosa) on May 10, 2018 at 12:49am PDT
Speaking to News18, the photographer revealed how he came up with the entire concept of Unequal Scenes when he moved to South Africa six years ago, to study for a masters degree in Anthropology. "The inequality was impossible to ignore," he said. "From the minute you land in Cape Town, you are surrounded by shacks. Literally, tin shacks surround the airport, which you have to drive past for ten minutes before you reach the affluent suburbs where privileged people live," he said. Miller realised that this is the status quo not only in Cape Town, but in many parts of the world. But it was not a status quo that he was 'okay' with, and found it strange "how easily it was to become habituated to inequality: to drive past these shacks every day, but not really think about it, or do anything about it." This remains true of Mumbai, and perhaps most other places in the world. The impoverished side of Mumbai is so normalized, that people don't see the stark divide as clearly anymore.
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Love it or hate it, Mumbai is a model of the city in the 21st century - A Global South alternative to Manhattan, an awakening elephant in the fields of culture, science, industry, and architecture, and also a thoroughly in-progress, semi-planned experiment of extreme growth. A post shared by Johnny Miller (@millefotosa) on Aug 30, 2018 at 1:48pm PDT
Miller decided that it was time to change people's perspective, literally, by taking his drone and presenting them with an aerial view of the problem as he saw it. In the April of 2016, he did just that - and the project was born.
But the process of shooting these images is quite research-heavy. Miller has to identify where to take the photographs through a combination of census data, maps, news reports, and talking to people. "In South Africa and the USA I used data tools created with Census information, for example. In Mexico City, I relied on advice from a helicopter pilot, Carlos Ruiz. In India, I used PK Das’ slum maps."
The areas are starkly different from each other, so he had to find different approaches on how to photograph them.
"Once I identify the areas I want to photograph, I visualize them on Google Earth, and try to map out a flight plan. This includes taking into account air law, air safety, personal safety, battery life, range, weather, angle, time of day, and many more factors. Not to mention all the logistics that go into taking aerial photographs around the world – hotels, rental cars, different languages. Oftentimes I’ll have a friend, or a colleague, or even a co-worker who will help me out – but sometimes I’m totally on my own," he said.
Miller had been to Mumbai before he decided to shoot this series in the November of 2017. He found Mumbai to be an incredibly busy, huge, modern and unique, but not "overwhelmingly scary". "The city has a character," he said.
Miller started with Dharavi.
The first time he went to Dharavi he expected it to be a dangerous and idle neighborhood, much like the townships in South Africa. However, what Miller found different in the city were the people. "Everyone was doing something-- either recycling or creating something," he said.
However, not everyone took kindly to a white man taking pictures. "People were wary of me, for good reason, as I’m sure there are tons of white European photographers who come in for ulterior motives and leave. But because I spent time there, and made an effort to hire locals," he said.
The series, Unequal Scenes, is about creating visual juxtapositions that work as metaphors. However, Miller points out that a big drawback of shooting with a drone is the lack of nuance or human elements.
While his aerial shots capture the 'unequal scenes' in Mumbai, he is not done yet. He wants to take up Unequal Scenes as a lifelong project - with Brazil and South Asia on the list soon.