Gorgeous, humbling photos of Manila's super-dense shantytowns

German photographer Bernard Lang has produced a photo series documenting the incredible overcrowding in the slums of Manila, a city whose mean density is 36,000 people/square mile, rising to 200,000 people in the city's 500 riverside slums.

The photos Lang shot from a helicopter are ghastly, stunning and humbling, something straight out of a Neal Stephenson novel.

Manila has 36,000 people per square mile, making it one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The density is even higher in the 500 slums that line the city’s rivers, railroad tracks, and garbage dumps, where you can find more than 200,000 people per square mile. During his first night in town, Lang looked out his hotel window to see the city aglow. An unattended stove sparked a fire that raced through Tondo, the city’s largest slum. By morning, 1,000 shacks and shanties lay in ruin, leaving 15,000 people homeless. “It’s this close, edge-to-edge life,” he says.

The next day, Lang chartered a helicopter to fly over the ruins. Safely belted into his seat, the photographer leaned out the side with his medium format digital camera. A thousand feet below, people sifted through the rubble and lined up for food and water at a nearby church. The chopper took Lang to other neighborhoods and to the port, where hundreds of makeshift houses teeter on stilts. “They’re literally built on the sea,” Lang says.

Manila [Bernard Lang]

Staggering Views of Manila’s Insanely Crowded Slums [Laura Mallonee/Wired]

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