Africa as Freak Show ~ Pieter Hugo
Photograph © Pieter Hugo.
At The Guardian you can find this slideshow and this story on South African photographer Pieter Hugo. I have been wondering about his work for a while now but have been uncertain what I think. So, here you go:
Much of Hugo's work seem to me fairly unexceptional - more or less standard portraits albeit some of albinos or members of various Christian sects. Those that stand out, like the one I've lifted here, seem to me to portray Africa as a freak show - men and boys posing with baboons dressed in human clothes or huge, slouching hyenas on leashes. Is he trying to recreate the exotic? Is he trying to portray menace? Is he establishing a continuum between the local fauna in Africa and its human inhabitants? Beats me.
Sure, we need to see Africa as much more than as series of civil wars, refugee camps, famines, epidemics and droughts. I could not agree more  . The alternative, however, is hardly just to present the continent as an open-air circus. Hugo has won a bunch of awards. And in The Guardian piece "Elisabeth Biondi, visuals editor of the New Yorker magazine and one of the most influential taste-makers in modern photography," is liberally quoted singing his praises. Count me among the skeptics though. Biondi exaggerates by way more than half.