Drone Photography Project Reveals New Perspective on Post-Apartheid Inequality

South Africa's racial segregation laws and policies of the apartheid era may have ended 22 years ago, but the lingering effects of the forced separation of whites and blacks is getting another look through a photography project called "Unequal Scenes." It is the brainchild of American Photographer Johnny Miller, who now lives in Cape Town. What started as a post on his Facebook page, has morphed into a national and international dialog.

From several hundred meters up, Miller's Inspire 1 Quadcopter has captured video and still images of the stark contrast between South Africa's "haves" and "have nots." On April 19, Miller posted his first aerial image of Masiphumelele, a community of some 38,000 people, most living in small tin-roofed shacks. Surrounding the impoverished area, which has only one way in and out, is a series of upscale suburban developments worth into the millions of dollars. They are protected by an electrified fence and a guardhouse and separated by a greenway, which acts as a defacto no-man's land.

Masiphumelele on left, affluent suburbs on right

Masiphumelele on left, surrounded by affluent suburbs, separated by an electrified fence and guardhouse. Miller's first post in the series "Unequal Scenes." © Millefoto

"Some communities have been expressly designed with separation in mind," Miller writes, "and some have grown more or less organically."

Papwa Sewgolum Golf Course

Papwa Sewgolum Golf Course outside Durban, adjacent to impoverished settlement. © Millefoto

The Facebook post has been shared more than a thousand times with nearly 200 comments. What Miller didn't realize is that his images and his project would garner so much attention. Emotions on this subject are still very raw and real in South Africa, and the problem is not limited to Cape Town. Miller has also posted images of similar contrasting scenes from Durban and Johannesburg. The detail in some of the images is pretty amazing. You can see the swimming pools just a stone's throw from the shacks stacked in rows and separated by concrete and wire fences. They are provocative and each one comes with a well put together narrative. Miller tells Fstoppers he plans to release new images in the coming days and weeks as his project enters a new phase. He seems pleased that he has rekindled an important dialog through his photography.

Hout Bay/Imizamu Yethu

Hout Bay on left, Imizamu Yethu on right. Miller notes the abundance of trees and the lack of trees in this contrasting image. © Millefoto

Miller's first drone images were beauty shots of Cape Town landmarks. "Drone photography is interesting," says Miller, "because it affords people a new perspective on places they thought they knew." There's plenty of beautiful aerial photography for sure. But what Miller says he had not seen, was any aerial images of what are known as informal settlements, a euphemism for illegal and inadequate housing. So he took his drone to one of the most dramatic examples, the boundary between Masiphumelele and Lake Michelle.

The 35-year-old American photographer went to Cape Town in 2012 on a scholarship to pursue a master's degree in anthropology at the University of Cape Town. He still hopes to complete his thesis one day. Miller has established a video and photography business, Millefoto, with projects on two continents, despite little formal education in photography. A lighting class and another on documentary filmmaking was enough to get him his first gig with a Seattle video production company. But he says it was a trip to a bowling alley with a DSLR that got him hooked on picture taking. Miller hails from Mukilteo, Washington, an ironically affluent seaside community north of Seattle on the Puget Sound. 

Johnny Miller photo

Photographer Johnny Miller

All images used with permission of Johnny Miller.
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22 Comments

Leigh Miller's picture

Powerful images...long after the shackles are off the effects remain huh?

Trevor Christopher's picture

I don't understand your comment? Are you saying that the affects of Apartheid are the cause of what is happening now? If so you are wrong! Every person in "The New South Africa" lives in constant fear. Do you have any idea how it feels to live your life behind high walls and electrified fencing, guard dogs that will be poison at some time, having to pay for armed security because the police force are so corrupt that you will probably get robbed by those sworn to protect you? Imagine getting a phone call that you wife has been hijacked in front of your home and the criminals took of with your car that you worked so hard for, but your 4 year old daughter is still in the backseat and now in the hands of murderous rapists? Would you accept prime minister Trudeau spending 25 million Canadian dollars on his house? I appreciate what Jonny Miller has done and is painting a picture of South Africa 22 years after Apartheid but living there not been able to just live in peace is not a life for any South Africa no matter the color of ones skin. No photo or video will ever be able to tell the full story of a country that will never ever reach its potential because of hatred!

Leigh Miller's picture

Respectfully, the same things you are stating here was said in the 1800's USA history. Freeing the slaves would make life unsafe for white people. The disaffected slave owners formed posse groups to raid negro settlements and hunt militants. The reasoning for that was when "blacks" are scared, that's when white people are safe.

Yet the USA miraculously survived and developed into a super power...with an eventual black president and soon to be female president.

This is a natural progression of change.

BTW, I may spend half the year in Canada but I'm American. Descended from slaves brought to the lower USA in the early part of 1850.

Take that racist hate/fear talk somewhere else.

Trevor Christopher's picture

I have the freedom to express my view just as you do, I'm living in the USA and I think the 1st amendment applies. As a white South African AND if you read my response properly you would have seen that I mentioned that every South African, black & white are affect by the democratically elected government, the greed and corruption that affects all. Not once did I single out a specific demographic - you're the racist. Is the color of President Obama's skin or the fact that Mrs Hillary Clinton is a women really your argument? What is your point? Are you forgetting that there's a few white men also running for the job of POTUS. And one may Trump your opinion! Best you take your talk somewhere else or get on a plane and go live in South Africa and then lets talk.

Leigh Miller's picture

NO idea what side of the bed you woke up on...maybe the "oh poor me white guy" side?

Many "NON-WHITE" SA's lived in absolute terror during apartheid. The segregation was a construct of the white government from before either of us were born.

Maybe tone it down and go read a book. I don't have to litigate what happened in your country. In case you don't know...that fight was lost in favour of a more balanced social structure.

Trevor Christopher's picture

Come on is my skin color a sore point for you? I respect your point of view but you mention my skin color in defense of your argument. I would never dimminish you based on what you look like!
Have you been to South Africa or is all your information from books & propaganda? You have no idea what you talking about and obviously the minute a white person has an expression we branded racists. To set the facts right, parties from both side came together to make it right not just one demographic. Both President Nelson Mandela AND President F. W De Klerk won the peace prize. Remember that

Leigh Miller's picture

Seriously....take your meds. Don't skip any treatments.

P.S. I've been to SA many times. In fact I'm slated to travel there in the coming year on behalf of one of my sponsors.

The color of your skin means nothing to me. I come from a mixed race family...Germans, Swedish, English , Spanish and French.

You are just rude! Part of the reason there is the separation in RSA is because of the fact that some families in the shacks have 10+ children when they cant afford to support one. Shacks have been noted as having up to 20 people living inside when there is barely enough space for half that. Secondly the shacks, most of the time, are built on land which they just take and nothing gets done about that. I live in South Africa and what Trevor said is absolutely true! We live in fear every day, we have to pay police and armed response to have extra patrols in our area because of crime (ps we were broken into 3 times within 2 months) and the townships increase in size every day getting closer and closer to the houses that are paid for and looked after by tax paying citizens. The people in the townships dont pay for land, water, electricity and if you drive through the townships in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth etc, you will see that 90% of them have stolen electricity and DSTV but nobody shows those photos and shows that there is theft and money spending and over populating, No.

Ett Venter's picture

I don't want to be a jerk, but you're being a little dramatic, Trevor. I'm a South African - born and raised - and I don't live in "constant fear". I don't have (and have never had) a security company looking after me, no have I ever had guard dogs.

I'm getting a little sick of people painting South Africa as this country where you're at risk 100% of the time, because that's not the case. I'm 29, and I have never been the victim of any crime, nor has anyone in my family. I had a phone stolen out of my school bag when I was 16, but that's it.

Yeah, the crime here is DEFINITELY some of the worst in the world, but even then, we're not living in "constant fear". The golden rule in South Africa, as far as personal safety goes, is "Don't be a dumbass, and you'll be fine". In other words - don't leave your house unlocked, don't leave your stuff lying around, don't go walking in the city on your own at night, etc, and you'll be just fine. I do all three of those things all the time, and I've STILL not been a victim of crime.

Yes, sometimes terrible stuff DOES happen. Rape, senseless killing, etc, that's all stuff we have here, and it's awful, but like I said, we're not in "constant fear".

So please, I think it might be a good idea to tone down the sensationalism just a tad.

Trevor Christopher's picture

Hmm just for the record I am South Africa and everything I mentioned has happened most of it directly to me and my family! So without being a jerk I don't know how anyone can ask me to tone it down. That's what South African's do accept everything. Before I left South Africa I was told "we have all experienced something, that's not a reason to leave" Why are we not allowed to express our dissatisfaction with rape, murder etc. The EFF is doing exactly that to the point that they willing to go to war? Maybe you have never been directly affect but many have and I do believe they have a voice too! I hope that your path is blemish free forever!

Trevor, your comment is shocking.

Shane Devlin's picture

I wonder which side of the fence does Miller live on?

No surprises from these photos. This is pretty much how it is everywhere. Take a look on Google Earth at Long Island, New York and you'll see that the Long Island Expressway divides those with wealth, who live north of the LIE and the everyday workers who live south. I will say, however, that the workers have A/C, automobiles, and plenty to eat in NY, but the wealth disparity is probably similar.
Why would some people put their wealth at risk to employ millions of workers around the world? One word...reward, and that's a good thing or we'd all be working for the government or not working at all.

Ngaere Woodford's picture

There is very big reason for the segregation still, murder, rape, burglary the list goes on. Feeling safe there is rare. And many communities choose to not to integrate. Many many more years have to pass by before equality is real, and not equality for the colored population but for ALL living there. Photographing South Africa is still one of my most favorite things. It's beauty sadly marred by political corruption and high crime.

James Howard-Davies's picture

I wonder if Miller was aware of the story of Papwa Sewgolum (golf course image) and chose to create this image because of it, or was it coincidence? Sewgolum was a "coloured" golfer who won a major tournament and was not allowed to recieve the trophy inside the club house and was forced to accept it in the rain. He now has this golf course named after him in his hometown, so this image is quite poignant.
Incidently, if he were to zoom out a little further you would see an industrial area surrounded by working class houses and no glitzy estates.

Christopher Wheelock's picture

Thanks James. Yes, if you follow the link in the story to his Unequal Scenes site, you will find his narrative on the very point you make.

James Howard-Davies's picture

Thanks, I'll defintly have a look tonight.

Use Google Maps and look at Cape Town.....you could take Miller's idea and do it almost anywhere in the world.

"What you think means more than anything else in your life. More than what you earn, more than where you live, more than your social position, and more than what anyone else may think about you."

George Matthew Adams

Dallas Dahms's picture

Inequality exists everywhere and it existed long before apartheid was written into law. It's not a uniquely South African situation to find the poorest of the poor living as close as they can to the rich. I'm sure if this fellow flew his drone over Rio he'd see the Favela shanties sitting next to wealthier areas too.

My question to the photographer is this: what are you actually doing to adjust the situation? Creating awareness via sharing of photographs online is worth nothing these days. We have to do something more than just share our photos. We have to become pro-active and participate in the upliftment of these poor areas and get hands on. A group of us in Durban, South Africa recently did a tour in a squatter camp and we were surprised at what we found. We now want to do more trips there and we're using our photos to help the people who live there establish tourism to their areas.

More about that here: http://www.fotozones.com/live/index.php?/articles/gone-shootin/township-...

Lyndon Brandt's picture

This is by far the worst article I've ever seen on FS. New Perspective on post-aprtheid inequality? Christopher, should you really be using words like 'post-apartheid' and 'inequality' to headline this article? Separation of whites and blacks? Is this really a issue of 'blacks and whites'? Christopher, it is very clear that you have no knowledge of South Africa's political climate at this time. Do you not know that the ANC has overseen the unemployment figure in Johannesburg to rise to 869 000. At the same time conditions in informal settlements of Johannesburg have deteriorated to where South Africa's Human Rights Commission is now investigating the Johannesburg ANC government for human rights abuses. The ruling government Christopher. Not white people. The ruling government who's leader (Jacob Zuma) faces over 750 cases of fraud and corruption. The biggest disgrace is that under Zuma's presidency 2 million more South Africans have joined the ranks of the unemployed, and the hope of finding a job for 8.9million unemployed South Africans has all but evaporated. This body of work has nothing to do with 'Post-Aprtheid and segregation between 'blacks and whites'. Im am so sorry but the article is sensational smut. These images says nothing about 'post-aprtheid' and it says nothing about the artists work. Poor, biased and subjective journalism and FStoppers should be ashamed for publishing this.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

"Blame the white people for everything that's happening 22 years later".

Blames those in charge and whom should be acting to fix the problems. R246 million spent on the presidents 'homes' when it could have been spent on MUCH better things such as education which is the major talking point in RSA.

Trevor Christopher's picture

Agree with you 100%