Unequal scenes: Abstract aerial photographs highlight the split between rich and poor

This shocking drone images highlight the range of inequality that exists across the world.

The abstracts shots, taken by South Africa-based photographer Johnny Miller, show a perfect split between upper-class housing and beat-down shacks, fancy parks and dirt fields.

Aptly named ‘Unequal Scenes’, the works have taken Cape Town resident Johnny to the likes of Kenya, Mexico, Tanzania, United States, and across his native South Africa.

PICS by Johnny Miller / Caters: Kya Sands and Bloubosrand – Johannesburg South Africa 2016

Since starting the ongoing series in 2016, Johnny has captured more than 70 scenes worldwide.

Johnny, 37, who was born in Maryland, USA, said: “I thought it was strange how easily it was to become habituated to inequality.

“To drive past these shacks every day, but not really think about it, or do anything about it.

“So I decided to take my drone and focus on the problem – and try to change people’s perspective, literally, with an aerial view of the problem as I saw it.

“One day in April 2016, I did just that – and the project was born.”

PICS by Johnny Miller / Caters: Thembisa 2 Johannesburg South Africa 2016

The photographer’s works have proven to be very popular globally: he has upcoming exhibitions in Germany, Italy, Greece, New York, North Carolina and Cape Town.

There are, however, challenges to shooting such a series, too.

Some communities, Johnny said, are receptive to his work – like in Kenya, where groups of locals were literally cheering as the drones took off to capture the world below.

But in others, Johnny said he has had to keep a low profile – especially when shooting alone – in order to stay safe.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the Unequal Scenes project, Johnny said, has been seeing people discuss what these images portray.

Rich or poor, educated or uneducated – all have offered their views on the divides in wealth.

PICS by Johnny Miller / Caters: Mumbai 2 – 2017

Johnny said: “The images that I find the most powerful are when the camera is looking straight down – what’s known as nadir view, looking at the actual borders between rich and poor.

“Sometimes this is a fence, sometimes a road, or a wetlands – with small shacks or poor houses on one side, and larger houses or mansions on the other.

“Whatever it is about the composition of those photographs, they are extremely powerful to people.

“I think the images make inequality relevant – people can see themselves reflected in the images, and it’s deeply unsettling.”

Once Johnny has identified an area he wants to photographer, he carries out extensive research using Google Earth.

PICS by Johnny Miller / Caters : Mumbai 4 – 2017

This research also includes looking into restrictions tied to the locality – such as whether drones are permitted, the height they can fly at, weather, battery life and angles.

Going forward, Johnny plans to continue adding to his series.

He said: “I love aerial photography because it allows us an emotional distance to really jump in and spend a lot of time looking at the photos.

“When I was a kid I used to spend hours looking at maps, seeing all the place names and borders on the page.

“It’s the same way with my aerial photos – you can almost lose yourself in them.

PICS by Johnny Miller / Caters : Santa Fe 2, Mexico City, Mexico 2016

“This is also why I think Unequal Scenes is important – it allows us to come into a scene and engage with the problem.

“It allows us the distance to really reflect on the fact that we have allowed our societies to become so unequal.

“Traditional portraiture and photography on the ground rarely allows for that sort of contemplation.”