Mumbai’s crowds might be intimidating to an outsider. However, Dutch photographer Martin Roemers has been fascinated by it. He has been capturing the human flow in Mumbai and other metros for a decade. Roemers has photographed 22 cities as part of his project, Metropolis. He won the World Press Photo Award, in 2006 and again in 2011 for Metropolis. In 2015, he was given the LensCulture Street Photography Award for the project too. Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum in collaboration with the Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is currently exhibiting his works, with a focus on Asian cities. Roemers speaks about the project.
Bapu Khote Street, Bhuleshwar (2007)
Q. How do metro cities inspire you?
A. The United Nations Population Fund, ascertained in 2008 that more than half the world’s population is now living in an urban area, a figure that is expected to rise to by 70% by 2050. This is the reason why I embarked on Metropolis. I wanted to focus on this report and on these changes. So, I decided to photograph megacities — places with a population of more than 10 million people — to document urbanisation. Metropolis is about what urbanisation actually means to those who are living it.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Fort (2007). PICs by and Courtesy/Martin Roemers
Q. What attracts you to capture crowds in these metros?
A. The questions behind what I want to show are: How can people live in a city that is so vast yet so incredibly crowded and hectic? What are the differences between these megacities and what do they have in common? And what are their intrinsic problems such as poverty and pollution? I present this by taking photographs at (mostly) busy locations and from a raised vantage point. Each shot involves a long exposure time (on film) so that the city’s vitality is shown through the blurred movement of people and traffic while also focusing on lone individuals on the street. I try to follow as many elements as I can and when I feel every element has fallen in its place, I push the button. It is about finding the balance between moving and static elements and at the same time focussing on individuals who populate the streets. These individuals make the small stories in a photograph. The beauty of looking at a print is that the longer you look, the more you see.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Road and SS Maharaj Marg, Kamathipura (2007)
Q. Did you notice any element unique to Mumbai?
A. My first inspiration for Metropolis started in Mumbai. Years before I started Metropolis, I was in Mumbai. I was struck by its crowds. I wondered how could one encapsulate all this energy, chaos, and hustle and bustle in a single photograph. So, I spent the whole day in a building near Mohammed Ali Road, and took the same analogue shot over and over again. For me, it was an experiment about how to capture these streets.
Photographer Martin Roemers
Q. Of all megacities, your favourites would are?
A. New York and Mumbai. I have been in Mumbai very often. I like the friendly atmosphere and the crowds. For someone from an over organised country like the Netherlands, it can be chaotic. And that is exactly what makes it attractive for me. Never a dull moment in Mumbai!
Till: May 24, 10 am to 6 pm
At: BDL Museum, Byculla (E).