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Mile-High Views of Global Inequality

A South Africa-based photographer uses aerial views to document the sharp divides between rich and poor in developing countries.

Blogging Our Great Divide
November 28, 2016

by Sarah Anderson

There’s no shortage of statistics about rising economic inequality around the world. But what does that inequality actually look like? Photographer Johnny Miller has developed the art of drone photography to capture some of most dramatic images of our global divide.

In a new collection of aerial images, Miller focuses on the stark gaps between rich and poor in Nairobi, Kenya. Several photographs capture the jarring juxtaposition of the plush Royal Nairobi Golf Course and Kibera, a sprawling community notorious for overcrowding and desperate poverty. The golf course, named after British King George V, boasts of its more than 100-year-old history as a “premier private members club” providing world class sporting and recreational facilities. Over on the Kibera side, most residents live in tin shacks or mud huts and half are unemployed.

Miller, an American based in South Africa, has done several similar projects using drone photography in other cities, including Cape Town and Mexico City. Why use drones? One advantage appears to be that it allows a view into pockets of extreme wealth concentration that are otherwise difficult to see since they are in gated communities.

Another interesting aspect of Miller’s work is his focus on infrastructure and how it can either increase or reduce inequality. As Miller puts it, in Nairobi, “infrastructure constrains, divides, and facilitates city growth, almost always at the expense of the poorest classes.” For example, one of his Nairobi photos shows a planned road that will cut through Kibera, displacing thousands of people and destroying schools and clinics in its way. Another shows an existing highway that has already divided some sections of Kibera, leading to numerous accidents as people attempt to cross over it

Miller captured a similar image of the Santa Fe neighborhood in Mexico City, where modern developments and high-rise buildings have sprung up in close proximity to impoverished neighborhoods.

Miller says his goal is to portray our economic gaps as objectively as possible. “By providing a new perspective on an old problem,” Miller says, “I hope to provoke a dialogue which can begin to address the issues of inequality and disenfranchisement in a constructive and peaceful way.” To view more of Miller’s provocative drone photography, see his web site, Unequal Scenes.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project and co-edits at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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