How drone photographs showcase racism in South African architecture

CNN  — 

When Seattle-born photographer Johnny Miller moved to Cape Town, South Africa to study anthropology, he decided to send his drone camera to the skies to take an aerial shot of the city as a keepsake. When he looked through the footage, he discovered the legacy of apartheid was still very much visible in the city’s architecture. The white neighborhoods were defined by large gated communities, while the black neighborhoods were recognizable as overcrowded urban townships.

“A light bulb went off”, he recalls. He decided to launch a photo project, called Unequal Scenes, to offer a new perspective of the country’s racial segregation.

“You can show these images to a child, and I think he’d be able to pick the side he wants to live on.”

The Facebook factor

When Miller first posted his images to Facebook, he says the initial reaction was “very negative.” Many pointed out that the problem of inequality wasn’t unique to South Africa. He insists that it kinda is.

“South Africa has a unique history which is quite different from other places,” he insists.

“During apartheid, segregation of urban spaces was policy,” he says, adding that 22 years after the fall of apartheid, many of these barriers still exist.

“In Masiphumelele, there are 38,000 people, and next door, you have a neighborhood which has a tenth of that,” he notes.

The first aerial photos he posted on Facebook received 60,000 views – a stunning figure considering he’d rarely garnered more than a couple of ‘likes’ previously. Soon after, Unequal Scenes was born.

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Hope for the future?

Miller says the project has started a positive conversation. A handful of urban planners and housing officers have seen his photos and reached out to him.

He says that his photos – devoid of people – show a more objective viewpoint that is difficult to argue with.

“Viewers can stop thinking, ‘this is a white or black issue,’ or, ‘I’m looking at a poor or a rich person.’ They are almost looking at a map or a puzzle,” he says.

“A lot of people in South Africa are telling me that they didn’t realize how little has changed since 1994 until they saw these photos.”