Johnny Miller’s Unreal Scenes photography project captures the unfair truth of wealth inequality within cities, and how stark the contrast often is.
Miller lives in Cape Town where the signs of wealth inequality between the rich and poor are all too obvious. Vast townships can be just a five minute drive from huge mansions with gates, barbed wire and massive fences.
However, there are some places where perhaps the differences are less obvious, or more deep routed in history from further back. Miller’s project shines a huge light on the contrast, and with just a drone, his pictures say more than any words could.
Miller photographed three countries; India, Mexico and South Africa. The reasons his drone shots are so effective is that in cities such as Mumbai, the inequality is not just clear to those that live there, it’s easy to spot with just one quick glance.
The shot below of Mumbai’s vast slum next to the tall, high rise buildings is perhaps the most drastic picture in his collection. This picture tells a two stories however, one of the privilege vs poverty, but it also highlights the battle for space for all classes. India has a huge overcrowding issue and Mumbai is the third most densely populated city in the world with a population of 12.47 million people.
This means there are 21,000 people to every square kilometre, resulting in the picture you see below. Formerly known as Bombay, Mumbai is considered by some as the heart of India, but it is better known as a hub for financial and commercial activity, being one of the top 10 commercial centers of the world. But failure to effectively redistribute the wealth created from this around the city creates the stark difference between rich and poor.
In terms of the most severe inequality, Santa Fe in Mexico City may be the worst. Despite being home to over 21 million people, making it the biggest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere, just four multimillionaires account for 9% of the city’s GDP.
Nearly half the city is living under the poverty line with the wealthiest 1% earning 21% of the nation’s total income.
It’s often the labourers from the vast slums that build the huge skyscrapers that tower over them.
Cape Town has recently faced an issue of water, which has again highlighted the huge gaps of inequality within the city. As Mpumi Mhlalisi, a Western Cape Water Caucus Member, links the scarcity of water in townships to apartheid saying, “we do not struggle for freedom, but we struggle for water”.
The drought has hit the whole city, but many argue that the richer parts of the city are getting more access to more water and vast numbers of people in townships are getting much less than is safe for them to live with.
The water issue has shone a light on a country and a society struggling to effectively move away from it’s divided past and Miller’s shots of that split show how stark that difference is.
The South African-based photographer says, “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 about 10 minutes, until you reach the more affluent suburbs where privileged people (myself included) live.”
“This is the status quo in Cape Town, in South Africa, and in many parts of the world – but that’s a status quo that I’m not OK with.
“To paraphrase Barack Obama, I believe that inequality is the defining challenge of this generation.”
Miller had to undergo a lot of research in order to execute his project without interruption, “I identify where to take the photographs through a variety of tools … a combination of census data, maps, news reports, and talking to people.
“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.”