A photographer and filmmaker specialising in documentary projects, Johnny Miller in his new project called “Unequal Scenes” explores the inequalities and economic disparities present all over the world. Closer home, he takes us through a jarring photo story of the contradictory landscapes of Mumbai. He describes this project as “a visual exploration of inequality around the world by drone”.
Through his lens, the city of Mumbai comes across as an incoherent object built haphazardly. It contains some of India’s most powerful industries, as well as some of the country’s poorest slums. In the middle of Dharavi rises the National Stock Exchange with an air of mockery. Even the Mumbai airport, India’s second busiest one, has been left incomplete in the east section because of the slums that intrude in it from all sides. This might be looked upon as an eminent feature of a developing country, which is a significant departure from the developed ones where advancement has been majorly consistent across all sections of the society. He captures the bird’s eye view of the city in order to provide a clear perspective of the relation among its inhabitants. Miller finds the aerial perspective to be the most effective way to capture the disparity. He said, “The images that I find the most powerful are when the camera is looking straight down – what’s known as [the] nadir view, looking at the actual borders between [the] rich and [the] poor.”
A video uploaded on Miller’s YouTube Channel in 2016, for instance, showed the stark contrast between Cape Town’s low-income Masiphumele area and the elite Lake Michelle township, the two areas divided by a wetland.
Miller relies on a combination of census data, maps, news reports, and communication with people, in order to identify where to take photographs. He referred to slum maps drawn by architect, P.K. Das for the Mumbai project. After having decided upon an area to be photographed, Miller uses Google Earth to get a sense of the geography, and maps 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,” he said. “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.”
By showcasing Mumbai’s slums beside its multistoried buildings, his photographs try to draw an analogy between the two, thereby exploring a social problem which anticipates no solution in the near future. Miller’s photo stories are a way to increase awareness regarding this breach in our society between the rich and the poor. Miller says, “Unequal Scenes has always been about creating visual juxtapositions that work as metaphors – so I’m sure there are some rich people in the slums I photograph, and some poor people in the nice-looking buildings,” he said. “But the point is to say, these divisions really exist, they are massive, and they affect millions of people around the world. Let’s do something about it!”
According to Miller, drone photojournalism is an effective way of extracting an alienated response from people by giving them a distance and perspective for reflecting on. This is because being too close to a particular social reality most often ends up making us inert to its most heinous aspects.
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