Mumbai’s startling inequality presents itself in a variety of ways. It is visible when driving down the busy roads and from the windows of its suburban trains—swanky high-rises often stand in proximity to a sprawling network of shanties. But the clearest view of the disparity comes from up in the sky.
It was from this vantage point that photographer Johnny Miller recently trained his lens on Mumbai. His images, focusing on Dharavi, Mahim, and the Bandra Kurla Complex, show a dense and divided city with clear lines separating the poor from the rich.
These photographs are a part of Miller’s Unequal Scenes project, which he describes as “a visual exploration of inequality around the world by drone.” Over the past two years, Miller has covered parts of South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, the US, and Mexico, apart from India.
Miller, who was born in the US, moved to Cape Town in 2012 to do his master’s in anthropology. It was here, four years later, that his journey with Unequal Scenes began.
The inequality in South Africa, says Miller, was “impossible to ignore.” Close to half a century of Apartheid, which ended in 1994, meant the divide was not just a byproduct of uneven economic growth—it was a systemic practice. The divisions were social, economic, and architectural. Black and coloured people had to live in separate areas from the whites, usually further away from city centres and in extremely cramped spaces, as hardly any land was made available to them. The impact of this segregation continues to be felt. Protests over affordable housing and other amenities are a frequent occurrence. What Miller noticed, however, were the physical signs of the era of segregation—the barriers in the form of rivers, wetlands, or barren land that continue to divide rich and poor areas in many parts of South Africa.
“From the minute you land in Cape Town, you are surrounded by shacks,” said Miller. “…But I thought it was strange how easy 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. So I decided to take my drone and focus on the problem— and try to change people’s perspective, literally with an aerial view of the problem as I saw it. And one day in April 2016, I did just that—and the project was born.”
Miller finds the aerial perspective to be the most effective way to capture the disparity. “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,” he said. “Sometimes this is a fence, sometimes a road, or a wetland—with small shacks or poor houses on one side, and larger houses or mansions on the other. Whatever it is about the composition of those photographs, they are extremely powerful to people.”
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.