Slums - Photography - M1key - Michal Huniewicz

Slums Photography - M1key - Michal Huniewicz

Slums by Michal Huniewicz

Below, my pictures from various Indian slums which I shot during my recent trip.

What is the purpose of going to a slum, taking, uploading, and watching such pictures anyway? It turns out that many people find this sort of activity quite objectionable. Did I make the slum dwellers feel nice and appreciated when taking their pictures, or did I cause them to lose their dignity? Are we here for educational reasons, or is it just poverty porn? [1] Scroll down, take your virtual poverty tour now, and decide for yourself.

I had two doctors look at these pictures to get an idea about the health of those people so that I could describe it better.
Also, some pictures have a retro look applied to them. The Lightroom preset I created specifically for this purpose is available on my blog.

... In search of good Indian music: from the supergroup SuperHeavy with A. R. Rahman on board: Mahiya.

Thanks: Dhanusha (captions), Jim (captions, medicine related), Mohammed Hassan (captions, medicine related).
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28.
Uploaded on: 2013-02-17.

Near Kirti Nagar

Near Kirti Nagar
What is a slum? It is a run-down area of a city characterised by substandard housing, squalor, and lacking in tenure security. [4] The term was originally used to describe relatively affluent areas that then deteriorated, but now the definition includes informal settlements found in cities in the developing world, mushrooming in poorer countries.
One billion people worldwide live in slums. By 2030 it is supposed to be 2 billion people. [5]
ISO 200, 40mm, f/4.5, 1/400s.

Under the bridge

Under the bridge
Slums emerge as a result of rapid rural-to-urban migration and itinerant employment combined with urban poverty. [5] The Annawadi slum in Mumbai for example was created by its inhabitants next to an international airport, where they hoped to be able to get a job.
I took this picture in New Delhi, while walking downstairs from a traffic bridge over rail tracks. The feeble stairs led straight into the roughest slum I have ever been to.
At that point, the foul smell was beginning to pervade...
ISO 280, 75mm, f/5.0, 1/125s.

Eyes of an addict?

Eyes of an addict?
Initially I thought the guy in the picture was most likely a drug user, but that kind of eyes can be a result of being exposed to pollution and dust.
So, how does a slum like this one smell? It's years if not decades of amassed odours of human excrement, urine, sweat, disease, general unfreshness, and filth. I had designated slum shoes and, you guessed it, they didn't return from India. I had to carry them in a separate plastic bag while travelling around the country.
This slum was just shacks made of wood and old advertisements, but slums can also consist of permanent and fairly well maintained structures.
ISO 200, 46mm, f/4.5, 1/640s.

Proper slum

Proper slum
What slums usually do have in common is lack of clean water, electricity, sanitation, etc. [6]
ISO 200, 18mm, f/4.5, 1/640s.

Cripple

Cripple
Here the reek was just overwhelming.
As soon as I showed up in that slum, the guy in the middle with no arm and no leg began to make a lot of noise. I looked at him and realised he was a cripple, and looked away, probably because I was taught that staring at people like that was impolite. But that upset him even more. With his remaining hand he took his penis out of his trousers, and began urinating in my direction with, I must say, decent accuracy. I was maybe 3m away, but it almost reached me. In the end, I took this picture. Notice his cheek - I was unable to identify the disease.
India is known to be one of the primary consumers of heroin in the world (along with China, Pakistan, and Iran) [27], so my guess was this guy was a heroin addict and had had his limbs removed because of loss of blood circulation. One of the doctors suggested however that the man shows "conjunctival & corneal superficial lesions called Pinguaculae & Pterygium", caused by the dry and dusty atmosphere, so that explains the eyes.
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/200s.

Red dress

Red dress
The word slum first appeared in the 1820s. [6]
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/250s.

Barbed wire

Barbed wire
The slum (and this is another one) is separated from the "overcity" with a double concrete wall, decorated with barbed wire. My guess is that this is to prevent the slum from growing. As it turns out, this slum is scheduled for removal, and the people are supposed to be given alternative homes. [3] As you can see, the slum is growing vertically instead (rather than horizontally), just like refugee camps I saw in Bethlehem.
India hasn't completely solved the problem of slums, but something is happening, as I very briefly describe later.
By the way, the slow bureaucratic machine riddled with corruption (that kind of works, after all) is referred to as neta-babu raj [2, p. 302] (politicians are neta, civil servants are babu).
ISO 200, 50mm, f/4.8, 1/320s.

Communal defecation

Communal defecation
In 1990s Warsaw became a hub for Romanian Gypsies who arrived in great numbers, to then attempt making it to more wealthy Western Europe, although some stayed. Some were once smuggled to Germany by Polish people in a stolen Ukrainian military helicopter. [8] Polish people observed in horror how those Gypsies communally defecated in public places (and Polish Gypsies were terrified it would ruin their reputation).
In my Transylvania gallery I mentioned that the Gypsies originally came from India, and communal defecation was one thing they have in common with poor Indians. Well, there you go.
Apparently, there is a widespread belief in India that the excrement of children is less dirty than that of adults, which explains to some extent the phenomenon you can see in the picture. [23]
ISO 200, 31mm, f/4.0, 1/200s.

Mobile centre

Mobile centre
Sometimes described as poorism, slum tourism is, as I previously mentioned, considered objectionable. The concept began in poor sections of London, in the late 19th century, when wealthy people would go to the poor areas of the city (then Whitechapel or Shoreditch) in order to see "how the other half lived". [9, 10]
Most people claim they visit slums motivated by curiosity, rather than education. [11] For me it was both, but mainly curiosity and the desire to experience something different. That is often criticised as voyeurism, and as robbing slum dwellers of dignity. [12]
While the people I photographed were usually happy to pose, perhaps they did feel a bit like animals in a zoo. But at least I bought a locally crafted bracelet (boy, was that a rip-off!).
ISO 200, 36mm, f/4.2, 1/400s.

White power

White power
In my Indian Wedding gallery I mentioned a product called Fair & Lovely, which is sold in India, and lightens the skin. The huge ad over the street is representative of most ads and commercials in India, where super-pale beautiful people live a perfect life. Actual Indians look like those below the ad.
According to some estimations, 40% of Indians use skin bleaching products. [28]
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/500s.

Children smiling in a slum

Children smiling in a slum
Devil's Acre was a slum in London near Westminster Abbey, where people would go slumming (visiting for tourist purposes), "in which swarms of huge and almost countless population, nominally at least, Catholic; haunts of filth [...]". [14] The slum was replaced with new estates in the 19th century. [13] Generally speaking, English slums were inhabited until the 1940s, when slum clearance started. [4]
ISO 250, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/125s.

Lord Shiva

Lord Shiva
Lord Shiva on a tile. The wall separates a slum from the city. Shiva is the Destroyer or the Transformer in Hinduism. He is, in fact, the penis god, worshipped in the form of lingam. He's blue because he drank poison. The serpents he's wearing denote wisdom and eternity. The bull, Nandī, is his mount. [22]
ISO 200, 48mm, f/4.5, 1/500s.

Dodge this!

Dodge this!
"If you want to get justice, you have to get it for yourself, the courts are useless." [2, p. 87]
ISO 360, 32mm, f/4.2, 1/125s.

Cooking

Cooking
There are many definitions of slums, and what is a slum to you may not be a slum to others. In Toruń, Poland, where my parents live, a large part of the city with nasty post-communist block of flats is sometimes jokingly referred to as slums.
I wonder what they're cooking. In India, poor people eating rats are not unheard of. See a blood-chilling video of Untouchable people killing and frying rats as a curry. Catching rats is apparently a taboo job in India.
Notice they are using their right hands to touch the food - the left one is for cleaning after defecating. [23]
ISO 200, 34mm, f/4.2, 1/125s.

Kathputhli slum street

Kathputhli slum street
It's not a very clean place, as you can see. It is safe to assume that in places like that the otherwise valid 5-second rule does not apply. While in India, I was on malaria tablets, but I kept forgetting to take them. "If I were a girl, I would be pregnant a lot" (Richard Hammond).
It's not difficult to see that an emergency vehicle wouldn't even fit on that street.
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/1600s.

Aphex Twin girl

Aphex Twin girl
India has restrictions on child labour, but doesn't completely ban it. [15] Children are not allowed to work in mines (where they are quite useful, because their small bodies allow them to squeeze and plant explosives in places where a grown-up wouldn't fit), and factories, as well as hazardous occupations. Many poor children work as scavengers, for instance, and then they risk being put in a detention centre for working. [16]
ISO 200, 32mm, f/4.2, 1/640s.

This is how you pose

This is how you pose
Also, one third of prostitutes in India are (usually enslaved) children, [17] many of whom come from Nepal [18].
ISO 280, 22mm, f/2.8, 1/125s.

Is he aiming at me?

Is he aiming at me?
I was previously shot at with a toy gun in Istanbul - my friend got hit. This kid didn't even fire.
Then again, they almost pushed me into that fetid gutter.
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/160s.

Bedlam

Bedlam
The Indian word for chaos and fuss is tamasha. [7, ch. 3]
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/250s.

Miss Kathputhli

Miss Kathputhli
When I saw her, her beauty amazed me so much that I grabbed her gently by the arm to stop her for my friend to admire. "Look how beautiful she is!", I said to him, and she smiled, embarrassed.
ISO 200, 24mm, f/3.8, 1/250s.

Smoke

Smoke
Slums are often situated next to well-maintained airports, hotels, and neighbourhoods. "Everything around us is roses, and we're the shit in between." [7, Prologue]
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/320s.

Kids demanding attention

Kids demanding attention
Notice the knobbly-spined boy on the right, not wearing any clothes.
ISO 450, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/125s.

Yellow dress

Yellow dress
Everyone knows that corruption is a bad thing. Or do they... In her nonfiction novel Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo suggests that to many of the India's poorest corruption is simply "one of few genuine opportunities left". [7, ch. 2]
On the other hand, Mark Tully in India in Slow Motion quotes an American industrialist of Indian origin who said that in other parts of Asia bribes at least get you what you want, whereas in India there is no end to people demanding bribes, so even corruption doesn't help one's investment being cleared.[2, p. 69]
ISO 450, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/200s.

Talking heads

Talking heads
In my Indian Wedding gallery, I mentioned own source of income that gives some independence, and in my Bedouin gallery I quoted Christopher Hitchens, who emphasised that women's emancipation was essential to society's growth and well-being. In other words, support small businesses run by poor women, and you will contribute to their fight for freedom, and their society will benefit too.
Sounds great! But there's a problem - they know this is what we want to hear, and this is what they tell us regardless of whether it's true or not. It's become a buzzword. In other words, you might be told that you are helping poor women become independent, but this is not necessarily the case.
That sort of eyewash is nicely described in Boo's novel: "Manju would then be paraded in, as Asha delivered the clinching line: 'And now my girl will be a college graduate, not dependent on any man.' The foreign women always got emotional when she said this." [7, ch. 2]
In the picture, exuberant slum children.
ISO 400, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/125s.

Another surprised baby

Another surprised baby
Other catch-phrases and buzzwords used to obtain your money may include but are not limited to: 'AIDS orphan', 'TB child', or 'When I was the second-hand woman to Mother Teresa [...]'. [7, ch. 2]
To Mother Teresa lovers I would like to recommend the excellent and thought-provoking Missionary Position by Christopher Hitchens.
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/500s.

Chalne do

Chalne do
The Hindi phrase chalne do means "let it be", and is a sister of the Polish da radę (roughly "it's gonna work"; usually uttered before minor and major catastrophes).
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/500s.

Two boys

Two boys
Indian government has introduced positive discrimination to support low-caste people, and there are elections where only low-caste candidates are allowed. The caste isn't visually obvious, so one has to prove their caste descent by producing caste and birth certificates, and somehow prove the ancestry. [20] Higher-caste people sometimes forge low-caste certificates to obtain various benefits. [21]
Fun fact: Paler Indians are genetically quite similar to people from Eastern Europe. [19]
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/400s.

Girls on balconies

Girls on balconies
This was taken in a poor Muslim neighbourhood in Varanasi. The men didn't appreciate our interaction with the women, and in a mildly unpleasant manner pushed us away (before we could climb up, I guess?).
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/800s.

Smack!

Smack!
The things you have to do to take an interesting picture...
ISO 200, 31mm, f/4.0, 1/320s.

Henna

Henna
From the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack:
ISO 1600, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/40s.

With cows in background

With cows in background
I was surprised that people with visible diseases were willing to pose, like this guy with a "cloudy cornea and a white cataract", which, according to one of the doctors I asked, is usually not difficult to fix, but not at this stage.
ISO 200, 40mm, f/4.5, 1/800s.

He was not impressed

He was not impressed
Speaking of eye-diseases, one of my friends told me that a good way of estimating a society's healthcare quality is to observe how many people are wearing glasses. None means no or very poor healthcare.
Once you live in a slum, it's difficult to get out, says Katherine Boo. She explains that slum dwellers do not unite or cooperate, instead they fight against one another. [7, ch. 17]
ISO 200, 35mm, f/4.2, 1/640s.

In a slum in Jaipur

In a slum in Jaipur
This slum didn't even smell, and was generally OK.
ISO 200, 28mm, f/4.0, 1/1250s.

Old man with a child

Old man with a child
And a small dinosaur behind them.
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/640s.

Near Transport Nagar

Near Transport Nagar
Children posing near Transport Nagar (nagar means settlement). I like how those people, while poor, try to be elegant nevertheless (and quite successfully so!).
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/100s.

Transport Nagar slum

Transport Nagar slum
This is taken from a roof top. It was a school and they let us go upstairs to take some shots from above.
ISO 200, 27mm, f/4.0, 1/1000s.

In her tower

In her tower
In India, there are many brothels, also in slums. In fact, there are even some sort of dodgy red light districts (e.g. Kamathipura in Mumbai). Curiously, modern technology such as mobile phones has allowed prostitutes to maintain their own business without the need of working in a brothel, but that makes HIV-prevention programmes more challenging. [24]
Prostitution in India is... legal, actually. But owning a brothel or pimping is not. [25]
ISO 200, 27mm, f/4.0, 1/1000s.

Heavy burden

Heavy burden
In my Jerusalem gallery, I explained why some people carry their load on their head.
ISO 200, 29mm, f/4.0, 1/640s.

There is no cow level

There is no cow level
This place was rather unpleasant. Soon I was attacked by a dog, surrounded by two adults and countless children who wouldn't let me go, almost pushed me into a gutter (yet again), and demanded money. They didn't just say "Money!". They said "Moneymoneymoneymoneymoneymoney!", all of them. They began pulling and pushing me, scratching my arms; so I had to protect my camera. I didn't give them any money.
Later I told this story to a European woman I met, and her Indian guide asked me, taken aback: "Well, why didn't you beat one of the children, as an example?" The easiest solution is always the most difficult one to find!
ISO 200, 48mm, f/4.5, 1/250s.

Mechanic

Mechanic
This is a place where a lot of mechanical workshops are, near Transport Nagar, with feral pigs roaming the area with no respect for anyone or anything. Some dude offered me a motorcycle ride and I accepted - no helmets, the Indian way.
ISO 200, 34mm, f/4.2, 1/160s.

Portrait during a working day

Portrait during a working day
In Transport Nagar.
ISO 200, 56mm, f/4.8, 1/250s.

Classy

Classy
"Good morning, Maharaja!", addressed me one of the women in that slum. "Good morning, Maharani!", I replied, and that pretty much exhausted my Hindi vocabulary.
ISO 200, 31mm, f/4.0, 1/800s.

Gathering around a pot

Gathering around a pot
As I described in my Highlights from India gallery, Hinduism seems to support the division of society into castes, and promote passive attitude in terms of one's well-being (as opposed to recommending working hard and receiving education to improve one's livelihood). Maybe when you're born again you'll live a better life!
It's therefore not difficult to see why other religions may seem appealing to the poor. On 19 February 1981, a few hundred Untouchables were publicly converted from Hinduism to Islam, in Meenakshipuram, and that led to an outburst of Hindu activity. Hindu priests then prostrated themselves before Dalits (another name for the Untouchables), and even feasted with the Untouchables in various temples (where the Untouchables are traditionally not allowed).[2, p. 159] "Mea culpa".
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/1250s.

Disposable children

Disposable children
The costs of healthcare can, as anywhere else, be quite high. Katherine Boo suggests that sickly children can be killed by their own parents to avoid the ruinous cost of their care. [7, ch. 5]
ISO 200, 70mm, f/5.0, 1/500s.

Angry buffalo

Angry buffalo
This is in a pretty random village (and therefore technically not a slum) between Jaipur and Bikaner. Those buffaloes (there were more all over the place) got seriously pissed off in the end, and we had to leave.
ISO 500, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/80s.

The day I bought 50 kites

The day I bought 50 kites
After being attacked by kids in another slum, I was surprised to find out those kids were quite welcoming and friendly. They didn't ask for money, but they did ask for... shampoo, which of course I didn't have with me in my small photo-gear backpack. As seen in the picture, they don't know it yet, but they are about to get a gift from me!
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/640s.

Kites

Kites
I bought them 50 kites from a local vendor, and it cost me... £1.18.
ISO 200, 36mm, f/4.2, 1/1000s.

Small family

Small family
An additional 50 million people have been added to the slums of the world in the past two years, would you believe? [4] Slums aren't going anywhere.
There are many ways to deal with them - upgrading them (the Brazilian way), bulldozing them (the Chinese way), offering slum dwellers alternative accommodations (to some extent the Indian way). Of course, none of that works really well, because the problem here is not the slums themselves, but the poverty that causes them to emerge. [26]
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/400s.

Self-portrait

Self-portrait
And finally, my self-portrait in this girl's eyes.
ISO 200, 50mm, f/4.8, 1/250s.