Johnny Miller’s photography project, “American Unequal Scenes,” captures inequality across the United States by using aerial drone imagery to show how the rich and poor live. From Oakland to Detroit and Baltimore, the stark contrast between rich and poor is evident from Miller’s striking images, which portray million-dollar infrastructure in close proximity to tent cities and homeless encampments. The photos provide much more than a bird’s-eye view of American cities. They depict decisions about city planning, infrastructure, and housing policy that affect millions of Americans, including especially minority communities.
In Palo Alto, California, Miller documented a homeless camp of an estimated thirty to forty people “literally right across the street from Facebook.” In Detroit, Michigan, Miller captured imagery of a wall, built in the 1960s by a property developer who wanted to create a new neighborhood for white residents. The developer built the wall, which remains standing today, to separate the community’s black and white residents. In Maryland, the “Road to Nowhere” is a remnant of a policy decision, intended to spur Baltimore’s growth, that ultimately destroyed a low-income, predominantly African-American neighborhood in West Baltimore.
In the BBC’s report, Miller described his project’s findings: “When you start digging into the history, and you start seeing things from the air, it’s just a series of really unfortunate and really pernicious decisions that were taken over the previous decades that we’re still living with.” The images, he told the BBC, are a “wake-up call” to current urban planners and politicians: The decisions they make are “going to be with us for decades and decades too.”
The Huffington Post covered Johnny Miller’s Unequal Scenes project in 2016, when its first installment highlighted the divide between rich and poor in South Africa. They did a second story in July, 2018, that referenced his attempt to branch out into locations across the United States. While they did well to point out how many Americans are somewhat aware of gentrification, income inequality, and how privilege has allowed them to escape the poverty that plagues an increasing number of US citizens ever year, they did not discuss what stops them from engaging in discussion and education related to ending this systemic cycle of poverty.
Source: “Seeing Inequalities in US Cities From Above,” BBC News, October 5, 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-45752411/aerial-photos-capture-inequalities-in-us-cities.
Student Researcher: Percy Starks (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Elaine Leeder (Sonoma State University)