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