Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

A bird’s-eye view of the truth

When Seattle photographer and videographer Johnny Miller first arrived in South Africa, the disparity between the rich and poor hit him at eye level.

He was intrigued by just how close together the rich and poor areas were in the Western Cape and was curious to see whether differences were evident from the air.

Miller, who now lives in Cape Town, decided to fly a drone over areas such as Hout Bay and neighbouring Imizamo Yethu. The first aerial image from his series that he shared on his Facebook page in April went viral — receiving more than 1 000 shares. The public’s response took him by surprise. He had had no intention of putting together a large- scale series of his aerial shots, but the feedback encouraged him to ride the wave and make a contribution to the discussion about inequality.

In Johannesburg, it’s startling how two extremely different areas, Alexandra and Sandton — two contrasting communities with different economic backgrounds — are approximately 5km apart. Fancy buildings such as the Michelangelo and DaVinci Hotel in Sandton make up the country’s richest suburban skyline, a contrast to the RDP homes, hostels and informal housing that make up the majority of Alex. This example of inequality is a known sore spot, but at times it seems as though South Africans have become accustomed to it.

The Group Areas Act was implemented to ensure that we lived, worked and “developed’’ separately, according to our races. Today we see inequality in South Africa in the way RDP homes have been built to resemble the matchbox houses that exemplified apartheid South Africa’s social and political disparities in their size and reservation. The shacklands are a reminder that poverty is a reality to many citizens. Division is no longer just based on race but also on social class.


Hout Bay and Imizamo Yethu. 

“Everything was very obvious to me but I had almost become accustomed,” Miller told the Mail & Guardian.

“I knew there were some town- ships and other areas that were close to some really rich ones but I hadn’t seen any aerial photography where someone actually documented it. I think someone has probably done it but I just hadn’t seen it before.”

International photographers such as David Wall have also documented class divisions with images of Imizamo Yethu and Hout Bay.

The areas in Miller’s series thus far include Sweet Home Farm, Lwandle, Imizamo Yethu, Somerset West and Strand.

Miller, who has a degree in political science from Dickinson College, was born in the United States but moved to Cape Town four years ago after receiving a scholarship to study anthropology at master’s level at the University of Cape Town. He has since found a home in Cape Town, where he runs his photography and video company, Millefoto.

His previous aerial shots were of the enchanting parts of Cape Town — shots of “beautiful Cape Town roads”, “Catamaran sunset in Cape Town” and the Cape Town Stadium — the kind of photos that entice tourists. But this series speaks to the broader population of South Africa.

A light bulb went on for Miller when a friend pointed out that aerial photography was “an interesting way of taking something that everyone thought they knew how to see and perceive, and putting a completely different perspective on to it”.

Since publishing the photographs on Facebook, he has received praise and criticism from local and international followers. Miller is aware that he could be perceived as “a passive observer of a problem”, which he says is different from being an active participant who is “trying to solve those problems”.


Strand and Nomzamo. 

His bird’s-eye view images clearly show how different various areas are. The yards in suburbs are spacious with trees in and around the proper- ties. This contrasts with the treeless light brown mass that is the view of townships.

Being a foreigner trying to zoom in on South African communities has placed Miller in the firing line at times. “One person commented on my Facebook post and said: ‘We know what is happening — everyone in South Africa knows there is a problem and division. You don’t have to rub it in our face. It’s almost as if you are airing our dirty laundry’.

“I guess what I am doing is trying to cross the line from journalism into activism. There has been the age-old debate of whether a photographer or journalist is actually doing anything to solve these problems or if he or she is just paparazzing or trying to make a name for himself or herself and I think that criticism is completely valid,” he said.

“I do believe that by documenting what is happening and provoking people into the firestorm conversations that are happening on my Facebook wall, I’m affecting some sort of change.”

He will release four or five more photos and videos from the series but his dream is to display the images in an art gallery and to create his own website where the series would be able to live.


View Johnny Miller’s inequality series at Millefoto.com 

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Katlego Mkhwanazi
Katlego Mkhwanazi is the Mail & Guardians arts, culture and entertainment content producer. She started her career in magazines, before joining the Mail & Guardian team in 2014. She is an entertainer at heart.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Zondo may miss chief justice cut

The deputy chief justice is said to top Ramaphosa’s list but his position as head of the state capture commission is seen as too politically fraught

Government fails to act on officials implicated in R3bn SIU...

Half of the 127 managers incriminated in gross procurement corruption have yet to be disciplined

More top stories

Zondo may miss chief justice cut

The deputy chief justice is said to top Ramaphosa’s list but his position as head of the state capture commission is seen as too politically fraught

Government fails to act on officials implicated in R3bn SIU...

Half of the 127 managers incriminated in gross procurement corruption have yet to be disciplined

‘Dung Beetle’ turns tech into art and plastic into fuel

Real dung beetles make waste useful and this steel sculpture does the same for plastic

Ramaphosa calls for public nominations for new chief justice

The president has named a panel of experts to help him draw up a shortlist of candidates in an unprecedented move that opens the appointment to consultation
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×