In the following article for Mahala, art critic Sean O’Toole delves into the confrontational world of Pieter Hugo’s latest collection of photographs, Permanent Error . In Permanent Error, Hugo documents the suburb of Agbogbloshie in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, which has achieved a kind of renown for its use an international dumping ground for electronic waste:
In the short space of five years Pieter Hugo’s portraits of Nigerian herbalists, Ghanaian honey collectors, Durban taxi washers and young children with Albinism, to list but a few of his photographic subjects, have entered the global conversation about photography. Irrespective of the opinion his photos prompt – because looking without some form of thought or consciousness is just dumb gawping – it bears stating, without any desk thumping theatrics, that Hugo’s magnetic portraits demand attention. They are, quite simply, hard to ignore. The compulsion to look, to not turn away, is, I think, an outcome of his work’s pin-sharp formalism, craftsman-like finesse, acute silence and exaggerated pageantry, the latter often an outcome of simply placing a human subject within a square frame.
All these elements manifest in his new book. Titled Permanent Error (2011, Prestel), it is Hugo’s fifth photobook and follows on Nollywood (2009, Prestel), a delirious and often surreal series of pantomime portraits Hugo made in collaboration with a group of Nigerian actors. If Nollywood was playfully over-the-top, a smart riposte to accusations of freakishness and racism levelled at his photography (I just wish he’d taken his underpants off for that masked self-portrait), Permanent Error marks Hugo’s return to a less self-reflexive mode of practice.
- Permanent Error by Pieter Hugo
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Image courtesy Michael Stevenson Gallery