Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Pieter Hugo

What are we looking at here? Victims of a civil conflict? Participants in a voodoo rite? Members of a bizarre bloodthirsty cult?

These photographs are actually from South African photographer Pieter Hugo’s newest series Nollywood, an unprecedented look at the Nigerian film industry.

Hugo’s previous bodies of work – Looking Aside, Messina/Musina and the amazing (and award-winning) The Hyena and Other Men – have already set him apart as a photographer with a fierce, unflinching vision of an African world few know even exists. A world that to Western eyes seems so unreal or extreme as to be from a post-Apocalyptic film, but is, in fact, harsh reality. With this new series he has created strikingly original, powerful portraits – no mean feat in itself – that take us deeper into this strange world.

There is little subtlety in Nigerian films; they are loud and brash, lines are invariably shouted rather than spoken for maximum impact, and special effects are brash and gory whenever possible. Plots tend to revolve around a mix of romance, comedy, deception, witchcraft, bribery and prostitution – all themes that appeal to African filmgoers, and reflect the struggles and turmoil that are part of their everyday life. Fascinated by this blend of the mundane and the unreal, Hugo approached a team of actors to recreate scenes and situations based on some of the industry’s staple fables, which he then photographed. What we see in the portraits here is his version of Nollywood’s vision of the real world. The line is blurred further; you’re left with a sense of awe and unsure of quite what is fact and what is fiction.

Escort Kama, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Azuka Adindu, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Izunna & Uju, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Linus Okereke, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Omo Omeone, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Rose Njoko, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Song Lyke & bystanders, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Song Lyke, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

Tarry King Ibuzu, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

And here are two images from The Hyena and Other Men, Hugo's previous project from 2007, for those of you who haven't seen it.

Abdullahi Mohammed with Mainasara, Nigeria, 2007

Abu Kikan with Ajasco, Nigeria, 2007

All images © Pieter Hugo


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. There is an insatiable hunger in most Europeans for gory sights of their victims. It's a hunger for anything that can fill their emptiness; it's a hunger to satisfy a deep sense of insecurity. Thus, anything that can depict or show "other people", that are not white Europeans, in a very ugly sight - be it through photos, movies, documentaries, or carefully manipulated stories - does give them a little bit of satisfaction. Europeans (some) need to feel better than someone to feel good about themselves. Small wonder then that Pieter Hugo's gory depictions of Black South Africans, Nigerians, and Ghanaians are receiving such huge recognitions and awards in Europe. They are much needed drugs and relief for most Europeans. Small wonder too that good pictures, movies, documentaries, stories, and depictions of Black Africans don't sell in Europe because they are not "satisfying", they don't fit the picture. Hence behind Pieter Hugo's pictures is a man with a deep unsettling struggle, anger, and identity crisis. They depict vengeance. I hope Pieter and those for whom he made the pictures find some solace in them.