Can You Tell the Difference Between These Pictures of New York and Mumbai?
New York and Mumbai are many thousands of miles apart, but photographer Nisha Sondhe sees them as rather close together in spirit. Since 2008, she's been depicting the similarities of life in both cities in a series she calls "Mumbai v. New York." Sondhe hopes her parallel visuals, which match everything from coastlines to buildings to streets to people, will bridge a cultural gap she believes is overblown.
"We always think things are so different," she says. "With the pairings now that I try to do, I want someone to say in one city, Oh they have that there too? I feel like the world gets smaller and people need to understand that we're kind of the same."
Growing up in Cleveland, Sondhe often felt like the only Indian in her school. When she moved to New York, back in 1998, part of what attracted her to the city was its diversity. "You can be anyone and anything, and it's kind of normal here," she says. In that sense, it felt a little bit like Mumbai, which she'd visited regularly over the years to see the rest of her family.
"There's a lot of energy and there's a lot of room for whatever it is you want to do in either place," she says.
The Mumbai-New York photo project originally began as an exercise in compare in contrast. A Laundromat in New York and a person banging clothes against a rock in Mumbai; a coffee shop in New York and a tea man in Mumbai. As the years went by and the project progressed, Sondhe realized the differences weren't as great as they'd once seemed. Mumbai had Laundromats and people working on laptops in coffee shops, too.
"India, every year, it's growing and getting more modern," she says. "It's growing faster than I can shoot it. There's some pairings I keep swapping out because they're more similar now than they ever have been."
Sometimes these behavioral echoes go beyond the images themselves. One pair of photos captures children playing cricket in the streets of Bandra and running through busted hydrants in Harlem. In both places, says Sondhe, the police came and chased the kids out of the areas — and in both places, they came back and resumed their play once the cops were gone.
To date, Sondhe's work has explored a range of cultural themes. She recently completed a six-part series for the India Ink blog of the New York Times that focused on education, music, worship, transportation, and waterfronts, among other things. She says she'd love to do another set on "secrets," documenting the seedy underbelly of both cities, from gangsters to sex workers to drug addicts, and would love to round out the project with pairings on "power."
While Sondhe has called "Mumbai v. New York" her "lifelong project," she recognizes that it will eventually come to an end. Before it lives in a coffee table book, however, she'd love to do an exhibition in both cities simultaneously. If she opened in Mumbai on a Friday, after all, she could conceivably hop a plane and open in New York the same day.
"They're 10 hours ahead and it's a 13-hour flight," she says. "You could kind of do it."
All images copyright of Nisha Sondhe and posted with permission. Mumbai shots appear first in every pair.