Here in the UK, they’d be called artisans!”
Welsh photographer Gareth Kingdon came away with his definitions of “slum”, “workshop”, “labour” and “art and craft” all jumbled up after a month-long photography project in December in Mumbai’s Dharavi—one of Asia’s largest slums.
Hidden Cities: Dharavi is the second in Kingdon’s series documenting the livelihood practices of large urban slums (the first was Kibera in Nairobi a few years ago). His 360-degree panoramic images give a coat of polish—from an all-new vantage—to what is otherwise projected as the grimiest recess of Mumbai.
Kingdon’s images are digital photographs made from 20 individual frames stitched to make up a single 360-degree image. They depict a temporality—the individual frames have been shot over a period ranging from 45 minutes to 3 hours. And in that sense, they’re busier than reality.
“I did first learn about Dharavi from Slumdog Millionaire,” Kingdon says over the phone from the UK. “But when I arrived at Dharavi and saw the efficient recycling ethic, the impossible skill levels...the fact that there were close to 15,000 factories in those few square miles, I knew I was on to something bigger than alleged slum tourism.”
While Kingdon has worked extensively in Africa, this project made for his first trip to India. His fly-on-the-wall style necessitated working with a local organization or an individual who knew his way around. Reality Gives, an NGO that works with child education in the area, put him in touch with a young aspiring photographer, Ravi Chandrashekar, who helped him navigate the tanneries and embroidery workshops of the slum, while being mentored in the process. Kingdon stayed with a family in Dharavi for the entire duration.
While the photographs primarily cover industries and livelihoods (featured here), Kingdon was fascinated by, and also photographed, personal living spaces and shared community spaces. His most memorable takeaway from his stint has been the afternoon gulli cricket sessions.
Kingdon responded to a call for entries for the second edition of PIX, a quarterly photography magazine, whose theme for the issue was Outsiders. Dharavi lies within the frame of reference created by a large city but is still a contingent anomaly, an outsider. There was also the factor of Kingdon’s background. “His own status as a foreigner together with his play on dimension and perspective that lends small space a sense of depth and expanse...was also why we selected his work,” says curator Rahaab Allana, who is also the editor of PIX.
Next, Kingdon plans to go to Makoko, a fishing slum built on stilts in Lagos, Nigeria.
Hidden Cities: Dharavi is on view at Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi, till 10 June.