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The Places We Live

September 18, 2009 - November 15, 2009

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The Places We Live

In 2008, for the first time in human history, more people lived in cities than in rural areas. One-third of these urban dwellers—more than one billion people—resided in slums. That number is expected to rise substantially: the United Nations forecasts that the number of slum dwellers will double to two billion people within the next 25 years. Poverty is urbanizing at breakneck speed, and there are few overarching plans to address how cities can accommodate this rapid influx of humans.

The Places We Live compels viewers to consider what it means to live in a city in the 21st century. In a multimedia installation, visitors are admitted into the homes of 20 different families in four slums around the world:

  • Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya
  • Dharavi in Mumbai, India
  • The ‘barrios’ of Caracas, Venezuela
  • The ‘kampongs’ of Jakarta, Indonesia

In late summer 2005, Magnum photographer Jonas Bendiksen moved into a small room in the middle of Kibera, Nairobi, to try to understand how daily life is lived in one of Africa’s largest slums. He was immediately struck by the residents’ awesome capacity to create normalcy and dignity out of extremely challenging living conditions.

The hillside barrio of El Valle. Caracas is a shaped like a bowl, with poorer barrios circling the affluent and commercial areas, which lie at the valley floor.
© Jonas Bendiksen /Magnum Photos
His stay in Nairobi sparked a three-year project documenting households and families in Caracas, Mumbai, and Jakarta. Bendiksen attempted to challenge some of his own assumptions about urban poverty. He discovered that it was impossible to generalize the lives and experiences of one-sixth of the world’s population. He discovered that—beyond the common perceptions of poverty, misery, destitution, insecurity, and danger—that there were more stories that needed to be expressed. In The Places We Live, Bendiksen captures the enterprise and hard-work, hope and humor, and love and compassion that occur even in the face of some of the world’s most difficult environments.

The Places We Live is a collection of the voices and reflections of some of the people living in the world’s fastest-growing human habitat—slums. These are the places we live.

The National Building Museum is the first United States venue for The Places We Live. The exhibition opened in 2008 at the Nobel Peace Center and will travel next to cities in Europe and Asia.

About the artist

Jonas Bendiksen was born in Norway in 1977. He began his photography career at 19 in Magnum Photo’s London office. He then became an independent photojournalist and worked extensively in Russia. Bendiksen’s works have been featured in international publications including National Geographic, Newsweek, Geo, TIME, and the Sunday Times Magazine. He has won numerous awards including the Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography, first prize in Pictures of the Year International Awards, and a National Magazine Award for his documentary of slum-life in Kibera published in the Paris Review.


The Places We Live was produced by Magnum Photos and the Nobel Peace Center, Oslo, Norway, and is supported by Canon. All photographs (c) Jonas Bendiksen, Magnum Photos. The presentation of the exhibition at the National Building Museum is made possible by Cities Alliance, USAID, and The World Bank.