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Profile : Pieter Hugo

South African photographer, Pieter Hugo's work delves into the heart of Africa's outliers.

issue three : fear thy neighbour

Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.

David Hume
 Image: Pieter Hugo from his series
Image: Pieter Hugo from his series “Kin” / Image via We Folk

I have been a fan of Pieter Hugo’s work for many years. His work both excites and terrifies me. Despite hailing from the same city and moving in mutual circles, I have yet to meet the man.

Having left my hometown (Cape Town, South Africa) over five years ago now, our mutual circle has shrunk and Hugo’s work moved into the peripheral view of my life. Until recently, when I began exploring artist whose work focused on breaking down cultural and racial barriers to profile for this issue; Fear Thy Neighbour.

His works focus on marginalised or societal outliers, with a strong thread towards Africa and her people.

Messina/Mussina

Looking back to his 2007 series, Messina/Mussina, a border town between South Africa and Zimbabwe. His family portraits offer the viewer an honest look into the lives of averaging South Africans’ in their own homes. 

Image: Pieter Hugo from the 2007 series  Messina/Mussina  | via  We Folk
Image: Pieter Hugo from the 2007 series Messina/Mussina | via We Folk
Image: Pieter Hugo from the 2007 series  Messina/Mussina  | via  We Folk
Image: Pieter Hugo from the 2007 series Messina/Mussina | via We Folk

In an interview in The Guardian; Africa as you’ve never seen it before in 2008, Hugo explains to journalist, Sean O’Hagan what motivates him to photograph the subjects he is drawn too:

My homeland is Africa, but I’m white. I feel African, whatever that means, but if you ask anyone in South Africa if I’m African, they will almost certainly say no. I don’t fit into the social topography of my country and that certainly fueled why I became a photographer.

Pieter Hugo

African landscapes 

Hugo is known the world over for his landscape and portrait work. He has been hailed as one of the most important photographers of the 21st Century. His 2009-10 series Permanent Error sees his ability to merge both subject and landscape into an evocative image that draws you in. These images also highlight the environmental plight of Ghana’s techno-waste lands.

Image: Pieter Hugo from the 2009-10 series, Permanent Error  | via  We Folk
Image: Pieter Hugo from the 2009-10 series Permanent Error | via We Folk
Image: Pieter Hugo from the 2009-10 series, Permanent Error  | via  We Folk
Image: Pieter Hugo from the 2009-10 series Permanent Error | via We Folk

All shapes and sizes

His first solo exhibition in 2006, Look Aside, sees breathtaking portraits of men, women and children who’s appearance make many look aside, while Hugo’s portraits make us look long and hard at his subjects. 

Young, old, blind, black, white: we are all just human beings and if we cannot cast on eyes on another without judgement or fear, it is only ourselves we have to be afraid of, for we are less than our potential. 

Photography by Pieter Hugo
Photography by Pieter Hugo

Complex and Contradictory

His most recent solo show, Peripheral Dispatches showing at PRISKA PASQUER in Cologne, continues with the theme of marginalised people, but moves beyond the African continent. It features works from “1994,” “Californian Wildflowers” and “Flat Noodle Soup Talk” were produced in South Africa, Rwanda, California and Beijing and implores us all to fearing our fellow humans.

He is represented by London based photographic agency, We Folk.

Pieter Hugo works on display from his solo show   Peripheral Dispatches   at  PRISKA PASQUER  in Cologne
Pieter Hugo works on display from his solo show Peripheral Dispatches at PRISKA PASQUER in Cologne

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