Most people are familiar with the concept of social and economic inequality, but although it affects a large part of the world's population, it is still somewhat abstract for many people. Photographer Johnny Miller intends to make it visible through his project Unequal Scenes, capturing images of spatial inequality from a very revealing perspective: aerial imagery.
The project started in South Africa, a country that is socially and spatially marked by apartheid, and now has been taken to Brazil to document scenarios in which extreme poverty and wealth coexist within a few meters, showing how distance is not only a measurement of physical length but can also imply more complex aspects, deeply rooted in our society.
For most people from other countries, Brazil is synonymous with inequality due to the favelas in Rio, which is why I wanted - needed - to come here to follow up on my project. This inversion, with the poor living on the hills and the rich on the lower part, is a unique phenomenon that puts poverty in the spotlight. My theory, which was eventually proved, was that Brazilians seem to accept inequality - or poverty - as a sad but inevitable aspect of life.
– Johnny Miller
For this project, Miller photographed landscapes and the wealth gap in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Santos, and Guarujá. Touched by how Brazilians seem to accept this condition, the photographer believes that the power of his series lies not only in the visual legacy of this urban phenomenon, but in the discussions that it can foster about the future of cities, work, and transportation, especially in a political moment as absurd and tragic as the one we are currently experiencing.
Miller hopes to play his role "respectfully, as a person seeking to highlight outstanding examples of failed social policies" printed on the urban landscape. In Brazil, especially in Rio de Janeiro, this is even more striking: in addition to the social struggle of wealth and poverty living side by side in a constant state of tension, there is also the confrontation between urban and natural environments, in which we can witness the sad and rapid collapse of the latter.
"Of course there are nuances, grey areas, and different ways of perceiving the particularities of each place, but the essence is the same, in the sense that these places are real, they exist, they result from systemic choices made by us as a society, and we have the power to change that reality if we want to," says the photographer. We already know that there are no isolated problems in the world and that everything is part of the same system, which creates a complex tangle of social, environmental, economic, political, and urban issues. So, changing this reality is no longer a question of will, it's about our survival in the world as a society.