Division of rich and poor

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Updated Thu at 12:07pm

PHOTO: Miller's photos show wealthy suburbs and slums lying side by side. (Supplied: Johnny Miller / Millefoto)


A photographer is offering a new perspective on the sharp divide between rich and poor in South Africa with a series of aerial photographs.

Johnny Miller's project, Unequal Scenes, saw him use a drone to capture images of some of Cape Town's richest and poorest neighbourhoods lying side-by-side.

Miller, originally from the US, moved to Cape Town in 2011 on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, studying anthropology.

During his studies he became fascinated by the method of city planning used during apartheid, which involved creating buffer zones to keep racial groups separate.


PHOTO: Cape Town's Hout Bay and Imizamo Yethu. (Supplied: Johnny Miller / Millefoto)


Decades on, a level of separation continues between informal settlements, or shanty towns, and wealthier suburbs, even though geographically many of them are very close.

"I took the drone to one of the most dramatic examples of informal settlements, which is the boundary between Masiphumelele and Lake Michelle," Miller said.

"I wanted people to see that divide from a new perspective.

"I wanted to disrupt that sense of complacency that I felt and that I knew a lot of privileged people in Cape Town feel."

The process of getting the photos was more complicated than simply sending a drone up and flying it around.

Miller said he used a map of South Africa created on census data to identify neighbouring areas with big demographical differences, then used Google Earth to map a flight plan.

Once the drone was in flight, he only had 12 minutes of battery life and a radius of a few hundred metres to capture the images.


PHOTO: Strand Nomzamo from above. (Supplied: Johnny Miller / Millefoto)


"I think the nature of the image so high in the sky is that it takes away that visceral dislike of the other. It almost becomes like, a mathematical problem that needs to be solved, a design problem," he said.

Miller said people had strong reactions to the project.

"Recently I spoke in front of a crowd and a man came up to me, whom I had never met before," Miller said.

"He looked me dead in the eyes, and said 'you're giving a voice to millions of people around South Africa who are living in these conditions'.

"That hit me very hard. As this project gets bigger the responsibility to people like that grows larger and larger."


PHOTO: An aerial photo of Cape Town slums alongside a well-maintained golf course. (Supplied: Johnny Miller / Millefoto)


Others pointed out that inequality exists everywhere, but Miller argues Cape Town's layout makes its two extremes even more apparent.

"There aren't really that many places in the world that look as extreme as South Africa," he said.

"Have these people ever been inside a South African informal settlement? I have. I can tell you that it is desperate. In some cases, it is like an urban hell.

"There is disease, there is crime, there is unemployment, there is anger, and there is hopelessness."


PHOTO: Masiphumelele and Lake Michelle lie in stark contrast. (Supplied: Johnny Miller / Millefoto)


Criticism does not faze Miller, who sees conversation as part of the solution to Cape Town's inequality problem.

"Some [comments] are positive, some are negative … but people are talking. That's a good thing."

He plans to expand his project, eventually collaborating with people in South Africa and beyond. And he hopes other artists might follow suit.

"I hope that it inspires people to use technology and creative means to tell these 'old stories'," he said.


PHOTO: Many of the neighbourhoods are divided by narrow strips of land. (Supplied: Johnny Miller / Millefoto)


Topics: photography, poverty, human-interest, south-africa

First posted Thu at 12:00pm


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