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Now Delhi – Highway to Hell

2014-2016 - India
This project received the support of CNAP (National Center of Plastic Arts, French Ministry for Culture) in 2014, and by the AFD-Polka Grant 2015.
Centuries ago, Delhi was the most populated city in the world. For better or worse, there’s every indication that the current conurbation, Delhi NCR (National Capital Region), is going the same way. Its many satellite towns and rapid urban expansion, accelerated by the law of the car, have turned dull Delhi, the straight-laced sister of exuberant Bombay, into a megalopolis without it even noticing.
The authorities have tried hard to keep up with reality, in a constant effort, since the Partition (the creation of Pakistan), to control the waves of migration and their urbanistic consequences. /.../
Personal projects
/.../ The dreams of edification harboured by post-colonial society, along with those of modernist architects, were somewhat thwarted by the humanitarian emergency of the 50s and economic centralisation based on Nehruvian socialist ideals finished the job in terms of urban planning. Then, in 1996, a Plan was set up to halt the movement of urban proliferation typical of third world countries in the 80s, the key features of which were massive development of the grey economy and usurpation of public space. Given the monumental changes resulting from the economic opening up of the country in 1991, the authorities are now trying to apply the "Delhi 21" plan (deadline: 2021). Brutally contemporary, Delhi is a jungle everyone is trying to escape and protect themselves from on a daily basis; otherwise this city eats you up.
Delhi NCR is a perfect illustration of this paradox: if you make a city better, more people will come and live there; and if more people come, it will start to get worse. The challenges are immense: access to drinking water, public transport networks, energy, pollution, sustainability... Grand Delhi is an archetypal urban territory of the 21st century, led by the forces of globalisation, and the incubator of a very uncertain urban future; an urban Frankenstein.

To read pictures’ captions click on the images hereunder.

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Gurgaon, the best known and most prosperous satellite city of Delhi, has for years been the showcase of modernizing northern India. With the tremendous push for urbanization, Gurgaon has become a leading financial and industrial hub, boasting the third highest per capita income in India, and is an incubator for India’s economy in IT (Information Technologies) and BPO (Business Process Outsourcing). The city population grew from 37.868 in 1961 to 1.66 millions in 2001, and is spread over 730 square kilometres. More than 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies have local offices here. On the other hand, architects practicing in Gurgaon have learned to ignore their conscience regarding the issues of global warming and the depletion of natural resources, especially water. Underground water sources have reached alarmingly low levels. Extravagant highrises, residential towers and unusual architecture consume an enormous amount of energy. The need to follow international corporate architectural fashions has overcome all other considerations. The need is to project an image of modernity and of an upmarket lifestyle. In terms of public infrastructure, the State has been lagging far behind. The number of costly skyscrapers has mushroomed while plans for waste and sewage management, connecting roads or power supplies have kept defaulting for years. Gurgaon, Delhi NCR, December 2008.
Rang Lal Bhati, 65, a farmer living in the village of Bisrakh. Forty acres of his land were acquired by real-estate developers. Quotes – I don’t like Delhi because of all the towers that are being constructed on our farmlands. – What would make Delhi a better place to live? Reduce unemployment. – What is the first thing you would do with an unlimited amount of money? I don’t know. Bisrakh, Delhi NCR, March 2015.
A sheperd leads his flock, searching for green pastures still available in the Greater Noida municipality, which is developing quickly and where residential towers and townships are coming up by the hundreds. Farmlands are being acquired everywhere and sold to real-estate developers. There were a total of 216 villages in Greater Noida area, and the lands of only 15 to 20 are still up for grabs. Delhi NCR, March 2015.
Billboard : My desire just stoked. Experience a never-before lifestyle – for a new residential township in development near the town of Bhiwadi, another zone in Delhi NCR that is quickly becoming part of India’s urbanization revolution. Modern comforts and an upscale, cosmopolitan lifestyle are typical features highlighted when marketing these gated communities, residential condominiums that are mushrooming by the thousands. Delhi NCR, December 2014.
Kishan Lal, 81, is a farmer, has four daughters and four sons, and was born and brought up in his village, Bisrakh. Quotes – We are like dead people. Everything has been taken away from us. Eleven acres of my land was acquired. I am very unhappy. My children do labour work in construction sites. – What would make Delhi a better place to live? Unemployment is the biggest problem. – What is the first thing you would do with an unlimited amount of money? Doesn’t want to answer. Bisrakh, Delhi NCR, March 2015.
Early morning yoga session. Kaushambi, Delhi NCR, March 2014.
Ghaziabad industrial area. Delhi NCR, March 2015.
Poor people living in a nearby slum are recovering material from trash on this huge landfill, one of the three main ones in Delhi NCR. They mostly look for metal, which they can sell for recycling. They look mostly for material they can sell for recycling, like metal. India’s rapidly expanding middle class with its embrace of Western-style consumerism means ever more waste: Delhi city produces about 9,200 tons of trash daily, up 50 pc from 2007. Without segregation, household and even industrial waste is just dumped here. As in any landfill in the region, there is no leachate treatment facility, so byproducts released during the decomposition seep into the groundwater. When mixed waste is piled up, it also degenerates into methane after a while. This is among the most potent greenhouse gases, and is source of regular spontaneous fires that threaten both the ragpickers safety and the air pollution which is then worsened even more. Experts say that ideally, only 10-15 pc of total waste should end up in landfills, if there was a true waste policy to be carried out. Okhla Industrial Area, Delhi South, December 2014.
Dogs territory dispute. Okhla landfill, one of the three main ones in Delhi NCR. India’s rapidly expanding middle class with its embrace of Western-style consumerism means ever more waste: Delhi city produces about 9,200 tons of trash daily, up 50 pc from 2007. Without segregation, household and even industrial waste is just dumped here. As in any landfill in the region, there is no leachate treatment facility, so byproducts released during the decomposition seep into the groundwater. When mixed waste is piled up, it also degenerates into methane after a while. This is among the most potent greenhouse gases, and is source of regular spontaneous fires that threaten both the ragpickers safety and the air pollution which is then worsened even more. Experts say that ideally, only 10-15 pc of total waste should end up in landfills, if there was a true waste policy to be carried out. Okhla Industrial Area, Delhi South, December 2014.
Khatun, 32, recovers bricks from the Bhalswa landfill and sells them. She lives in a slum at the base of the landfill. She earns just enough to buy food. Originally from Saharsa in Bihar (among the poorest Indian states) she came to Delhi at the age of 12 for a better life, but life here is worse, she says. Quote – I was not able to continue my own studies, but I am sending my child to school because I don’t want her the way I do. Bhalswa Colony, Delhi North, April 2015.
Unknown origin foam, tainted pink by the festive powders used for Holi festival that happened three days earlier. The Yamuna river, among the most sacred and worshipped in India, is also among the most polluted in the world, especially in the Delhi segment. Its water has become totally unfit for drinking, bathing or survival of any aquatic life. The river accounts for more than 70 percent of Delhi’s water supply and 57 million people along its stream depend on its water. The 48km stretch in Delhi region represents 2% of its total length but over 50% of its pollution source. It is nowadays nothing more than a gigantic sewer. With about three billion litres of industrial effluents, domestic sewage and other toxic substances dumped into it every day (all along its length), it has become Delhi’s most shameful face. For Delhiites it is anything but a place for a walk or to enjoy a landmark of their city. Nobody approaches the river in the Delhi segment unless they are farmers on its banks or for religious purpose. Delhi North, march 2015.
Manohar, 75, has come to Delhi, where his son lives in a shanty squeezed between villas and residential buildings, hoping to find a cure for his illness. He has spent dozens of thousands of Roupies, yet doctors have not identified his problem nor advised a proper treatment. Meanwhile he just waits and spends time with his grand-son. Kaushambi, Delhi NCR, March 2015.
Poor people squatting under a billboard that reads: Exclusive. Ready to shift. Low rise homes for you – on the banks of the Yamuna river and along the Delhi-Noida Expressway. Low-rise homes are one symbol of luxury on the real-estate market. Noida, Delhi NCR, December 2014.
Shakti Enclave, a mix of slums and unauthorized colonies where mostly muslim population lives. Delhi South, February 2015.
Tronica City, a residential project of 7000 apartments, developed by Bharat City builders, a family business. Delhi NCR, December 2015.
Jayant, 41, here with his wife and children in their residential township’s playground, is a property dealer. He has been living in Delhi for the past 25 years. « Delhi is not that great but it’s a hub of opportunities. I am earning my livelihood here ». – Major change to make Delhi a better place: « Pollution and traffic are the biggest problems ». – The first thing I would do with a limitless amount of money: « I would spend 75 percent for myself and my family, and the rest on development of Uttarakhand (a Northern Himalayan State) ». Indirapuram, Delhi NCR, April 2015.
Before the departure of the Women’s Car Rally in Gurgaon. Gurgaon, the best known and most prosperous satellite city of Delhi, has for years been the showcase of modernizing northern India. With the tremendous push for urbanization, Gurgaon has become a leading financial and industrial hub, boasting the third highest per capita income in India, and is an incubator for India’s economy in IT (Information Technologies) and BPO (Business Process Outsourcing). The city population grew from 37.868 in 1961 to 1.66 millions in 2001, and is spread over 730 square kilometres. More than 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies have local offices here. On the other hand, architects practicing in Gurgaon have learned to ignore their conscience regarding the issues of global warming and the depletion of natural resources, especially water. Underground water sources have reached alarmingly low levels. Extravagant highrises, residential towers and unusual architecture consume an enormous amount of energy. The need to follow international corporate architectural fashions has overcome all other considerations. The need is to project an image of modernity and of an upmarket lifestyle. In terms of public infrastructure, the State has been lagging far behind. The number of costly skyscrapers has mushroomed while plans for waste and sewage management, connecting roads or power supplies have kept defaulting for years. Gurgaon, Delhi NCR, March 2015.
Returning home after an assignment at India Runway Week, a fashion show. Nikita, 26, is a professional model. She moved to Delhi in 2007. Quotes – Delhi is nice, very friendly. But I don’t love it. I love Rajasthan! (where she grew up) – What would make Delhi a better place to live? People should be more themselves, too many are just following traditions and imitate each other. – What is the first thing you would do with an unlimited amount of money? Travel, first in India, I love my country, then in Spain and Italy. Chhatarpur Farms, South Delhi, April 2015.
The golf green at Jaypee Greens, a private and secured integrated township, tagged as a global city planned by world renowned architects and planners according to its promoters, is considered as the most luxurious project in Greater Noida. Almost all prominent builders of the Delhi NCR region have a finger in the Greater Noida pie, though it still is almost a ghost new town. The 4 central sectors are occupied at 90 percent rate, 5 sectors have a rate of 50 percent, and 10 sectors occupancy rate is 20 percent. In the early 1980s, the government realised that the rapid rate at which Delhi was expanding would result in chaos, so they planned to develop residential and industrial areas around the capital to reduce the demographic burden. Before Greater Noida, there were two areas that had been developed, Gurgaon and Noida. But the 1990s saw a huge growth in the Indian economy. Migration to major cities exceeded all planning estimates. Noida, of whose infrastructure was carefully laid out, was developed to accommodate a population growth for 20–25 years. The massive population influx to Delhi, however, caused it to overload in a mere 15 years. The government of Uttar Pradesh then decided to develop another city as an extension to Noida with better planning. The idea was to create a world-class city approximately 25 km from Noida. As per the provisional data of the 2011 census, Greater Noida had a population of 107,676. Greater Noida, Delhi NCR, February 2016.
At the Cartier Travel With Style Show, concours d’elegance, held on the Jaipur Polo Ground. Delhi Central, March 2015.
At the Cartier Travel With Style Show, concours d’elegance, held on the Jaipur Polo Ground. Delhi Central, March 2015.
Sanam, 38, born and brought up in Delhi, is a lawyer. She has worked as a lawyer for six years in Dubai. Unmarried, she’s happy to live like a rolling stone. Quotes – I am a corporate lawyer, because usual litigation courts are depressing and disappointing, it takes all too long. The legal system is not modernized enough. When justice is delayed justice is denied. The corporate world on the contrary has to update with the modern times. I love Dubai! But in Delhi I like the people and the various layers. In the same day one can experience so many different Indias. I lived in Gurgaon for about a year and a half year when doing my apartment, it was nice but town planning there is upside down, first the buildings then the connecting roads and the rest. – What would make Delhi a better place to live? There are changes! And it has become safer for women. The big thing is this – Don’t you know who I am – behaviour in Delhi. People believe they are entitled to this and that and fuck off! – What is the first thing you would do with an unlimited amount of money? Sterilize street dogs and give stray animals proper shelter. And in general tidy up the city. But money is useless, people’s mentality has to be changed. Sujan Singh Park, Delhi Central, April 2015.
Domestic worker at the family house of Bharat City Builders, an important real-estate company. Vivek Vihar, Delhi East, April 2015.
At the Pink Champagne Show, a platform for budding young designers, hosted at the Grand Hotel. The tattoo represents Shirdi Sai Baba, an Indian spiritual master born in 1838, regarded by his devotees as a saint, and worshipped by people around the world. He was revered by both Hindu and Muslim followers. Sai Baba’s teaching combined elements of Hinduism and Islam, and he gave no distinction based on religion or caste. He had no love for perishable things and his sole concern was self-realization. Vasant Kunj, South Delhi, March 2015.
Ria, 27, lawyer and legal researcher. Ria arrived in Delhi at the age of 10, following her father career’s movements as a Navy officer. Quotes – There are two or three parts I love in Delhi and many I hate. It’s complicated, so many worlds here and I live in only one. People can be very agressive, but still it’s possible to connect with people out of your class, like rickshaw drivers. And there are beautiful gardens and pockets in the city. Else, pollution is the big problem, and class divisions are crippling. Richer people don’t treat the others well, they see them as complete shit, like the domestic workers. – What would make Delhi a better place to live? The sense of common good. The way people use common places. – What is the first thing you would do with an unlimited amount of money? I would make government schools good so every child can get a proper education. Here, according to which school you’ve been to, the others can immediately put you in a box, a class, a social status. Magnetic Fields festival, Alsisar, Rajasthan, December 2015.
A private party in the posh neighbourhood of Sainik Farms, former agricultural lands transformed into luxurious villas and properties. Many villas in this area were built illegally or encroached on government and agricultural lands, but the wealthy are rarely harassed by the authorities. Sainik Farms, Delhi South, March 2015.
Going out in Hauz Khas Village, a so-called urban village of Delhi that has become in a few years the super hub of bars, nightclubs and classy restaurants where mostly upper middle-classes like to go wild. Rhea,17, studies at the American Embassy school. She is Indian and hails from New Jersey (US), and has been living in Delhi for the last 3 years. Quotes – I hated Delhi when I came here. I was depressed. I didn’t like it because I had no friends. But then I met Ronaldo and my life took a turn. – What is the first thing you would do with an unlimited amount of money? Travel the whole world and have fun. Ronaldo, 17, studies at the American Embassy school. He is originally from Pretoria (South Africa), and has been living in Delhi for the last 3 years. Quotes – Delhi was different from my country South Africa. Everyone looked at me strangely because of my different look. – What would make Delhi a better place to live? People’s mindset should change. – What is the first thing you would do with an unlimited amount of money? I would take my friends on a world trip. Hauz Khas Village, Delhi South, February 2015.
At Amazon India Fashion Week. Param, 25, born and brought up in Delhi, is a blogger in men’s fashion who is about to launch his own label. He studied fashion design in Bangalore. Quotes – Delhi is amazing, I would never move away now. Before as a student I felt of moving, but now I know I can build my career here – What would make Delhi a better place to live? Put more colors into clothing. – What is the first thing you would do with an unlimited amount of money? I would buy a lot of fabrics, set up a boutique and employ poor people. Pragati Maidan, Delhi Central, March 2015.
Every sunday morning, from 6 to 9 am, the Raahgiri event takes place. The inner circle of Delhi’s main central square, Connaught Place, is closed to traffic and Delhiites can walk, rollerskate, cycle, dance… and reclaim the streets in a symbolic and festive way. Connaught Place, New Delhi, December 2015.
An unauthorized colony in Tughlakabad Extension. These colonies are most often situated on land zoned for agricultural use that has been illegally subdivided into residential plots. The most recent census estimates that there are four million people in Delhi’s so-called unauthorized colonies. Over 60 percent of Delhi’s territory is made of unintended urbanism. Districts that are legal and properly planned, which have access to a full set of services (electricity supply, piped water, sewage, paved roads, solid waste collection), represent only 24 percent of the city. These zones of full citizens accomodate Delhi’s wealthier classes and public employees and bureaucrats, in government-provided housing. Delhi South, March 2015.
Vijay and his wife Gyan, with their young daughter, just arrived in Delhi two days ago from the central state of Madhya Pradesh. They joined people who had moved from the same region and were granted a tiny shack encroaching on a busy roadside, with no facilities whatsoever. They don’t even know their own ages and were unable to respond to any of my usual questions. Vijay is looking for any kind of job, preferably in the construction business. Migrants in search of jobs arrive daily by the thousands in Delhi NCR. Taharpur Road, Delhi East, January 2016.
Labourers waiting for job offers. Mayapuri metal scrap market, said to be Asia’s largest. Here a car can be broken down for parts in less than an hour., local workers proudly say. Mayapuri, Delhi West, March 2015.
Kanhaiya Baba, 58, used to work in a power house as a technician. One day he got involved in a service dispute. One of his seniors abused him verbally. In return, Kanhaiya physically beat him up. There was a legal case filed against him and he lost his job. He decided to quit both the working world and his family, and also the earthly things to become a saint by living under this flyover. When the flyover was built, a temple was destroyed. Kanhaiya collected the idols and made this spot his living place to serve the Gods. Delhi Central, March 2015.
Barapullah elevated road. Nizamuddin West, South Delhi, December 2015.
Revathi and Vasant, husband and wife, are architects (Kamath Studio) whose designs have an explicitly environmental agenda, including their own home (pictured in this photograph) which was completed in 1996. Their first project, Kathputli Colony, was a slum rehabilitation, for which they received a grant in 1980 from the Times of India. They elaborated a design with the participation of the slum dwellers, who often came to their studio to work with them. They dedicated a year to the redevelopment project, which was never completed. Various laws blocked their progress. showing them that the government believed they would set a bad example for the poor. Quotes – Delhi is heading for disaster. This is not the way human beings should live. England developed participatory urbanism, for example, but here it’s not even possible to dream about it. The very idea of urbanism was misunderstood in 1962 Delhi Master Plan, because it contradicted the idea of that one’s workplace and home should be close-by, which is fundamental for Indians. Revathi (left), 60, had a father and a grandfather who believed in the socialist dreams of Nehru. They built many dams, the temples of modern India, Nehru would say, and new towns bridges, canals. Quotes – Delhi is a city of opportunity, power, so it’s good for us. But when I leave home, it’s like going into battle. – What would make Delhi a better place to live? It needs a greater structural acceptance of all layers of society. And I would love to see Delhi engage in more participatory urban design, but whatever is left of Delhi has been sucked up by the promoters mafia. – What is the first thing you would do with an unlimited amount of money? I don’t need that kind of money, I am happy as I am. Vasant, (right), 69, has been living in Delhi since 1971. Quotes – I like Delhi, I’m used to it. – What would make Delhi a better place to live? In the 1960s and 1970s, people had a conscience, they wanted to make it a bet
Protest organized by the CYSS, the student wing of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP / Common Man’s Party), following the suicide of a Dalit (Untouchable) student, Rohit Vemula, in the southern city of Hyderabad. They are demonstrating against caste discrimination. Before that, the gang rape case of Jyoti Singh Pandey in 2012 and the massive protests in its wake, which made worldwide headlines, revealed the existence of political consciousness among the young middle-class and their hope for profound changes in Indian society, still trapped in old mindsets and suffering from corruption at the highest level. But at the same time , the young generation is seduced by the power of consumerist culture, greedy for all their parents never had under the Nehruvian socialism. New Delhi, February 2016.
Students, mostly from JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) protest against the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar. The movement spread across campuses throughout the country. Kanhaiya Kumar, the leader of a student union, and some others students were accused of sedition (a law dating back to the 19th century under the British rule) and anti-Indian speech after they publicly voiced their opinion on campus about the hanging of Afzal Guru (a Kashmiri separatist convicted for his role in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack, sentenced to death and executed on February 9, 2013 ) and Kashmir’s endless conflict. Students marched through Delhi against a crackdown on free speech. JNU campus has always been famous for its leftist ideology and its atmosphere of debate and rebellion. It is also at JNU that a many of the country’s intellectual elite have studied. Before that, the gang rape case of Jyoti Singh Pandey in 2012 and the massive protests in its wake, which made worldwide headlines, revealed the existence of political consciousness among the young middle-class and their hope for profound changes in Indian society, still trapped in old mindsets and suffering from corruption at the highest level. But at the same time , the young generation is seduced by the power of consumerist culture, greedy for all their parents never had under the Nehruvian socialism. New Delhi, March 2016.

Exhibitions
  • On show at Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris (France), November 09th, 2016 to January 29th, 2017.
  • On show at photo festival L’Oeil Urbain, Corbeil-Essones (France), March 31st to May 21st, 2017.
  • On show at travel festival Etonnants Voyageurs, Saint-Malo (France), 3d, 4th and 5th of June, 2017.
  • On show at photo festival L’Oeil-en-Seyne à la Villa Tamaris, group exhibition from Signatures agency celebrating 10 years of activity, September 30th to Nobember 12th, 2017.

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