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.
Abdullahi Mohammed with Mainasara, Nigeria, 2007