Can you capture the energy of a city in just one image?
That’s the idea behind Metropolis, a book of photos of the world’s megacities by Dutch photographer Martin Roemers. The images illustrate the rapid rise of global urbanization. In 1994, there were 14 cities with a population over 10 million. In 2016, there were 29, according to the U.N.
Roemers was inspired to tell this story after going on a trip to Bombay many years ago. “I was struck by what I saw. It was so crowded, chaotic. There’s a smell, there’s a noise. It’s intense,” he says. He wanted to translate that feeling, distill the city’s characteristics into a single photograph.
That mission took him on a journey to five continents. From 2007 to 2015, he traveled everywhere from Lagos to Los Angeles. Roemers learned a lot of things along the way in both the rich world and the poor world. In developing countries, he saw how people built slums and houses where they probably shouldn’t, how in Mumbai, the beach is used as a toilet. Religion plays a big role in shaping a city’s personality. In Lagos, he said, taxi drivers would stop to do their Friday prayers right on the street.
Most of his photos show busy intersections — places, he thinks, that display the city’s infrastructure and also show signs of everyday life: shops, billboards, signs, traffic, people on the street.
“I wait until every element falls into place,” says Roemers. That could mean waiting for a rickshaw to pass a lady waiting for a bus as a train whizzes behind. “And at that moment, I push the button.”
This month, a selection of photos from Metropolis will be exhibited in the Anastasia Photo Gallery in New York and the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi. Roemer hopes to show his work in every city that he documented in his book.