Planet Slum

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Slum sanctuaries: For six weeks in 2005, photojournalist Jonas Bendiksen lived in a tiny sweltering room in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya. "I got interested to break some of my own stereotypes of these places," he says. "What I really wanted to focus on was not the extremities, the worst poverty, or the worst slums, but on how people manage to construct daily lives in the midst of such challenges." In Kibera, he visited churches assembled from the same makeshift material as many of the homes: tin plates and mud. Above, Sunday morning worship brings together the community.

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Home sweet home: A family in Kibera relaxes on used sofas. In many of the homes he visited, Bendiksen took photos of the four walls and then stitched them together to create interior panoramas. (When he exhibits, he projects the images life-size onto four walls.) "I wanted to establish these people as individual human beings," he says. "Their living rooms have many of the same elements as [those of ] people in the West, but they improvise components."

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Fires within: Lights in homes illuminate the barrios of Caracas, Venezuela, at dusk. In 2008, the number of people living in cities for the first time exceeded those in rural areas worldwide, a historic turning point. One-third of urban dwellers, approximately 1 billion people, live in slums. The United Nations predicts that number will double in the next 25 years.

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Mental block: What is a slum? The definition is hazy. The United Nations' definition of a slum encompasses several factors, including the kind of building construction, the level of services provided by the municipality, land ownership, and the rates of crime and poverty. "With 1 billion people living in the slums worldwide, there's no way that they all relate to their surroundings in the same way," Bendiksen says. In the Caracas barrios, pictured above, "the building construction is more solid, but crime is much worse than in other slums; there is more lawlessness."

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Pride and prejudice: A man named Ritze Silva lives in the Caracas barrios with his wife and three daughters. When Bendiksen visited them, Silva grew very animated talking about his family and his plans to paint his home. "Some people talk about their problems," the photojournalist recalls. "Some people talk about their hopes and ambitions. It's something journalists and photographers usually miss -- we overfocus on the negative. We depict an existence you can't even relate to. But there's a lot of ambition in the slums."

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Mamas and the papas: Carpenter Santosh Lohar, his wife Meena, and their baby Sandhya live in Dharavi, the largest slum of Mumbai, India. "I wanted to show who lives in these slums. People think of them as mainly criminals and prostitutes," Bendiksen says. "But the people who live here are basically mommies and daddies, going about their normal daily lives, with a lot of challenges." Dharavi is also where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed, though Bendiksen has not seen the movie.

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When I grow up: A child plays with colored lights hung for a wedding in Dharavi. Bendiksen's own inspiration for photographing the slums was the birth of his son in 2002. "When I became a father, I started thinking: What will the world look like when my son becomes my age?" he says. "Then I came across those statistics about urban slum-dwellers being the fastest growing segment of the global population. That really struck me."

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Inside industry: A man peers out the window of a recycling facility in Dharavi. Inside the warehouse, residents gather and sort all manner of refuse collected from around the city: paint chips, oil cans, computer parts, jars, clothing, scrap metal, and more. Mumbai's slums are hives of small-scale economic activity. According to The Guardian, 250,000 people in Mumbai's slums make their living through sorting, delivering, and selling recycled materials.

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View from her bench: Along the rail line that runs through central Jakarta, Indonesia, a woman named Subur and her then 9-month-old son, Subeki, live on a bench with a makeshift covering. "That's the one room I photographed that is not an interior setting," Bendiksen says. "That bench is her room. I tried to capture the view down the street from the bench where she lives."

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Family portrait: In Jakarta's "kampongs," the homes were smaller than in other slums Bendiksen visited. One couple, with their three teenage daughters, lives here. There is space to sit upright, but not to stand. Although the room is extraordinarily small, it's also very tidy. "You see here the same elements as in your own house: framed family pictures, wallpaper improvised," Bendiksen says. "No matter what economic condition people are living in, not only do we need to create shelter over our head, but to create a home."

Check out other FP photo essays:

?India's Real-World Slumdogs

?Bolivia's Lithium-Powered Future

?A Third Intifada?

?Edward Burtynsky's Oil

?No Place to Hide

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