Pieter Hugo’s Striking Portraits of Life on the Fringe of African Society

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Widely published in books and magazine and deeply collected by museums around the world, South African photographer Pieter Hugo is drawn to newspaper articles and radio and television reports that inspire his fascinating pictures. Traveling to distant parts of the developing African continent, Hugo discovers marginal subjects, such as wild honey collectors that gather the golden liquid by riskily attacking the hives and traveling street performers, who attract crowds with their pet hyenas, monkeys, and pythons. The award-winning photographer, who recently had his first museum show at The Hague Museum of Photography, is equally celebrated for his surreal Nollywood series, which captures Nigerian actors portraying rogues, demons, and prostitutes, and the chilling Permanent Error pictures, that expose the poisonous industry of dumping computer hardware in Ghana, where it becomes a toxic wasteland for pickers trying to earn a buck.

“A lot of my inspiration is reactionary to images I see in the media,” Hugo recently explained to VICE. “The Hyena Men started with a picture that someone took on a cell phone. Apparently he was an employee of a mobile phone network in Nigeria and he photographed them from a car window. He posted it on the Internet, saying, ‘These are debt collectors from Nigeria.’ The Nollywood series was made because while I was doing the hyena work everywhere in West Africa, every hotel I went to, every bar I went to, people were watching these movies. At the time it really just annoyed me. It later became apparent that it was something quite amazing and worth exploring. Permanent Error started because I had read an article in National Geographic on global recycling and there was a photograph of a computer dumpsite. The Rwanda work came from an article I read in the Economist on a plane one day. It’s born from literary or media stimulation, out of something I see.”

Assembled in the museum exhibition, which travels next to Switzerland, and compiled in a new monograph, published by Prestel, Hugo’s photographs offer a compelling look at a part of the world that continues to astonish. Click through to view some of our favorite images.

Pieter Hugo, Abdullahi Mohammed with Mainasara, Lagos, Nigeria, 2007. From the series The Hyena and Other Men. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, Nura Garuba and friend with their monkey, Nigeria, 2005. From the series The Hyena and Other Men. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, The Hyena Men of Abuja, Nigeria, 2005. From the series The Hyena and Other Men. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, Mummy Ahmadu and a snake charmer with a rock python, Abuja, 2006. From the series The Hyena and Other Men. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, Dayaba Usman with the monkey Clear, Nigeria, 2005. From the series The Hyena and Other Men. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, Escort Kama, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008. From the series Nollywood. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, Obechukwu Nwoye, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008. From the series Nollywood. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, Gabazzini Zuo, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008. From the series Nollywood. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, Chris Nkulo and Patience Umeh, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008. From the series Nollywood. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, Rose Njoku, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008. From the series Nollywood. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, Yakubu Al Hasan, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2009. From the series Permanent Error. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, David Akore, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2010. From the series Permanent Error. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, Naasra Yeti, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2009. From the series Permanent Error. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, Untitled, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2010. From the series Permanent Error. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, Abdulai Yahaya, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2010. From the series Permanent Error. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, Paul Ankomah, Techiman District, Ghana, 2005. From the series Wild Honey Collectors. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, Martin Kofi, Techiman District, 2005. From the series Wild Honey Collectors. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, John Addai, Techiman District, Ghana, 2005. From the series Wild Honey Collectors. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, Pieter and Maryna Vermeulen with Timana Phosiwa, South Africa, 2006. From the series Messina/Musina. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, Gezina and Hendrik Jacobus Venter and their children Pieter and Intelashia with their dog Snowy and their rabbit Peanut, South Africa, 2006. From the series Messina/Musina. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Pieter Hugo, On the highway outside Musina, South Africa, 2006. From the series Messina/Musina. © Pieter Hugo, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg