Courtesy of Martin Roemers

This photographer embarked on a quest to commemorate the human sides of 22 bustling cities.

Is it possible to visualize the changing character of a city in one image? For the photographer Martin Roemers, that question has guided a project that spanned 22 megacities over eight years.

His series, Metropolis, chronicles the spectacle of daily life in urban areas with populations greater than 10 million. “It began in stages,” he tells CityLab. “In 2007, I started to photograph cities in India where everything is always a little too crowded and too noisy, with not much personal space, and it sparked a pictorial fascination with city life.”

At the right time of day, when the light is just harsh enough, it takes a few moments to see the city at its nucleus—bustling and chaotic, moving yet still. A couple of clicks later, Roemers knows his story.

Saifee Jubilee Street, Kumbharwada, Mumbai, India, 2007 (Martin Roemers)
Zixia Road and Wangjiazuijiao Street, Huangpu, Shanghai, China, 2012 (Martin Roemers)

More than half of the world’s residents live in cities, and a UN Population Fund report postulates that by 2070, cities will house over 70 percent. “The growth is uncontrollable,” says Roemer, whose camera reflects the realities of urbanization across the world.

Sardar Vallabhbhai and Mohammed Ali Road, Kumbharwada, Mumbai, India, 2007 (Martin Roemers)

The series, which travels through Mumbai’s lively streets and across Times Square’s blaring billboards, exposes the sheer energy of megacities: they’re crammed with sensory overload. But some of the long-exposure photos—often taken from a high up, far-away vantage point—peek into the lives of individual urbanites. “The concept goes beyond growth and urbanization,” Roemers says. “How do people deal with living in cities? What does it mean to survive in one?”

New Market, Dhanmondi, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2011 (Martin Roemers)

Amid the roaring streets and public spaces, Roemers’s shots bring to life the personal rituals of prayer on a side street in Lagos, or the experience of protesting an outdated highway in the heart of Sao Paulo’s residential area. ”As a photographer, I wanted to capture that claim people have to their cities,” he says.

The series, true to the nature of his work, has traveled through museums in Mumbai, Amsterdam, and Dubai, with upcoming dates scheduled in Turkey, China, and Belgium, to name a few.

Metropolis is currently on display in New York City at the Anastasia Photo gallery until April 26, 2017. You can view more photos from the series on his website.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of a DART light rail train in Dallas, Texas.
    Transportation

    What Cities Are Getting Wrong About Public Transportation

    Cities could get more people walking, biking, and riding transit, according to a new report, if they just know where to look for improvement.

  2. A man charges an electric bus in Santiago, Chile.
    Transportation

    The Verdict's Still Out on Battery-Electric Buses

    As cities experiment with battery-powered electric buses, some are finding they struggle in inclement weather or on hills, or that they don’t have enough range.

  3. A photo of President Donald Trump showing off U.S.-Mexico border wall prototypes in March 2018.
    Perspective

    This Isn't a Border Wall: It's a Monument to White Supremacy

    Like Confederate monuments, President Trump’s vision of a massive wall along the Mexican border is about propaganda and racial oppression, not national security.

  4. Equity

    Hope You Aren't Counting on Getting a Tax Refund This Winter

    Millions of low-income households rely on the Earned Income Tax Credit to help them get through the winter. Too bad most IRS workers are furloughed.

  5. a photo of a transit bus under a freeway in Los Angeles, California.
    Transportation

    Los Angeles Passed a Historic Transit Tax. Why Isn’t It Working?

    Voters who supported L.A.’s Measure M may like transit, but they don’t seem to want a city that’s built for it.