Pieter Hugo

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Pieter Hugo
Born (1976-10-29) 29 October 1976 (age 39)
Johannesburg, South Africa
Occupation Photographer
Years active 2002 - present

Pieter Hugo was born 1976 in Johannesburg,[1] South Africa. He is a South African photographer who primarily works in portraiture and whose work engages with both documentary and art traditions with a focus on African communities.[2] Hugo lives in Cape Town.[3]

Early life[edit]

After working in the film industry in Cape Town, Pieter Hugo spent a two-year Residency at Fabrica research centre, Treviso, Italy.[4]


Hugo travels extensively to photograph Malochai Dorman and marginalized or unusual groups of people: honey gatherers in Ghana, Nigerian gang members who bring hyenas or baboons on their rounds to collect debts, boy scouts in Liberia, taxi washers in Durban, judges in Botswana.[3] Hugo's first major photo collection Looking Aside' consisted of a collection of portraits of people "whose appearance makes us look aside",[5] his subjects including the blind, people with albinism, the aged, his family and himself.[5] Each man, woman and child poses in a sterile studio setting, under crisp light against a blank background.[3]

Explaining his interest in the marginal he has said, "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 fuelled why I became a photographer."[6]

This was followed by "RWANDA 2004: VESTIGES OF A GENOCIDE" which the Rwanda Genocide Institute describes as offering "a forensic view of some of the sites of mass execution and graves that stand as lingering memorials to the many thousands of people slaughtered."[7]

His most recognized work is the series called 'The Hyena & Other Men' and which was published as a monograph. It has received a great deal of attention.[6][8]

Hugo was also working on a series of photographs called 'Messina/Mussina' that were taken in the town of Musina on the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa and which was published as a monograph[9] after Colors magazine asked Hugo to work on an AIDS story.[9]

This was followed by a return to Nigeria with 'Nollywood', which consists of pictures of the Nigerian film industry.[10]

'Permanent Error' followed in 2011 where Hugo photographed the people and landscape of an expansive dump of obsolete technology in Ghana.[1] Sean O'Toole writes 'if Nollywood was playfully over-the-top, a smart riposte to accusations of freakishness and racism levelled at his photography..., Permanent Error marks Hugo’s return to a less self-reflexive mode of practice.'[11]

In 2011 Hugo collaborated with Michael Cleary and co-directed the video of South African producer/DJ Spoek Mathambo's cover version of Joy Division's She's Lost Control, the fourth single from his album Mshini Wam.[12]

Commissioned by Italian luxury label Bottega Veneta, Hugo photographed models Amanda Murphy and Mark Cox for the brand’s spring/summer 2014 campaign, with the images shot in a wood in New Jersey.[13]

In the Spring of 2014, Hugo was commissioned by Creative Court[14] to go to Rwanda and capture stories of forgiveness as a part of Creative Court's project Rwanda 20 Years: Portraits of Forgiveness.[15] The project was displayed in The Hague in the Atrium of The Hague City Hall for the 20th commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. A selection of the photos have also been displayed in New York at the exhibition "Post-Conflict" which was curated by Bradley McCallum, Artist in Residence for the Coalition for the International Criminal Court.[16][17]



Hugo won first prize in the Portraits section of the World Press Photo 2005 for a portrait of a man with a hyena.[18][19]

In 2007, Hugo received the Standard Bank Young Artist Award 07.[20]

Critical Reception[edit]

While receiving a lot of 'critical bouquets', Hugo has also been accused of sensationalising and exploiting the exotic "other". Hugo responds, "My intentions are in no way malignant, yet somehow people pick it up in that way. I've travelled through Africa, I know it, but at the same time I'm not really part of it... I can't claim to [have] an authentic voice, but I can claim to have an honest one."[2]

Figures and Fictions co-curator Tamar Garb is ambivalent about the ethical questions his work poses: "Some people feel his work perpetuates an image of Africa as a space of abject poverty and of theatrical display for a Western art market – but he genuinely engages with the places he works in and questions the means of his own representation."[2]

In "The Photography of Pieter Hugo" in Aperture Magazine, Bronwyn Law-Viljoen says: "The novelist John Fowles observes, in an essay on The French Lieutenant's Woman, that 'All human modes of description (photographic, mathematical…) are metaphorical. Even the most precise scientific description of an object or a movement is a tissue of metaphors.'[21] Hugo understands that a photographic metaphor, a way of describing something through reference to something else, is created as much by the elements inside the frame of the image itself as by the carefully chosen distance, what I have called the critical zone, from the photographer’s lens to his subject. It is within this zone that Hugo maneuvers through the muddy waters of political engagement, documentary responsibility, and the relationship of these to his own aesthetic."[22]

Gallery exhibitions[edit]


  • Kin, Fondation Cartier-Bresson, Paris' '.[23]


  • 2007
  • 2004
  • 2002
    • Margin, the Cold Room Photographic Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa


  • 2010
  • 2009
  • 2008
    • A Look Away, Kuckei + Kuckei, Berlin, Germany
    • Room for Justice, Palais de Justice, Brussels, Belgium; Les Recontres de la Photographie, Arles, France
    • The Tropics: Views from the Middle of the Globe, Berliner Festspiele, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany
    • Rencontres d'Arles festival, Discovery Award laureate, Arles, France
    • Street & Studio: An Urban History of Photography, Tate Modern, London, UK; Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany
    • Make Art/Stop AIDS, Fowler Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA
    • Presumed Innocence: Photographic Perspectives of Children, DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Massachusetts
    • reGeneration: 50 Photographers of Tomorrow, DeVos Art Museum, Marquette, MI; Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art; Miami Dade Community College, Miami, FL
  • 2007
    • Lumo ’07 – ‘us,’ 7th International Triennial of Photography, Finland
    • Contemporary Photography from South Africa – Part 1, Hereford Photography Festival, UK
    • An Atlas of Events, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Portugal
    • Faccia A Faccia: Il nouvo ritratto fotografico, FORMA, Centro Internazionale di Fotografia, Milan, Italy
    • In Your Face, Galerie Bertrand & Gruner, Geneva, Switzerland
    • Family Relation, Warren Siebrits, Johannesburg, South Africa
    • Reality Check: Contemporary art photography from South Africa 2007, Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, Chemnitz, Germany; Museum Bochum, Bochum, Germany; Galerie der Stadt Sindelfingen, Sindelfingen, Germany
    • Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin, Germany
    • reGeneration: 50 Photographers of Tomorrow, Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA
    • Art Institute of Boston, MA
  • 2006
    • South African Art Now, Michael Stevenson, Cape Town, South Africa
    • Como Viver Junto, 27th Bienal de São Paulo, Brazil
    • Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Santiago de Chile, Chile
    • Street: Behind the Cliché, Witte de With, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
    • Pingyao International Photographic Festival (PIP), Pingyao, China
    • Tour - Cape Town to Miami: Hilger Contemporary, Vienna, Austria; Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
    • Nie Meer, De Warande in Turnhout, Belgium
    • Black, Brown and White, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria
    • Rivers of Suffering, Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT
  • 2005
    • reGeneration: 50 Photographers of Tomorrow, Musée de l'Élysée, Lausanne, Switzerland; Aperture Gallery, New York, NY; Art Institute of Boston, Boston, MA
  • 2003
    • Staged Realities—The Studio in African Photography, Michael Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
    • From Chaos to Order and Back, DDD Gallery, Osaka, Japan; Ginza Graphic Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
  • 2002
    • Margin, The Cold Room Photographic Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
    • Positions on South African Photography – Today, OMC Galerie, Düsseldorf, Germany
  • 2001
    • New South African Art, JAK Gallery, London, UK



  1. ^ a b http://www.pieterhugo.com/
  2. ^ a b c http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/africa-united-photographer-pieter-hugo-casts-a-new-light-on-tired-stereotypes-of-his-home-continent-2264048.html
  3. ^ a b c Leah Ollman (February 9, 2007), Photography that goes only skin deep Los Angeles Times.
  4. ^ http://www.artnet.com/artists/pieter-hugo/
  5. ^ a b http://www.pieterhugo.com/looking-aside/
  6. ^ a b http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/jul/20/photography.southafrica
  7. ^ http://www.pieterhugo.com/rwanda-2004-vestiges-of-a-genocide/
  8. ^ http://5b4.blogspot.com/2007/11/hyena-other-men-by-pieter-hugo.html
  9. ^ a b http://www.pieterhugo.com/messina-musina/
  10. ^ http://www.pieterhugo.com/nollywood/
  11. ^ http://www.mahala.co.za/art/permanent-error/#more-15987
  12. ^ "SPOEK MATHAMBO - CONTROL". pieterhugo.com. Retrieved 4 November 2013. 
  13. ^ Alessandra Turra (January 6, 2014), Bottega Veneta Unveils Spring Campaign Women's Wear Daily.
  14. ^ http://www.creativecourt.org
  15. ^ http://www.rwanda20years.org/
  16. ^ https://ciccglobaljustice.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/coalition-launches-arts-initiative-to-enrich-dialogue-on-global-justice/
  17. ^ http://www.ktfineart.com/home/?object_id=192&show=home
  18. ^ http://www.archive.worldpressphoto.org/search/layout/result/indeling/detailwpp/form/wpp/q/ishoofdafbeelding/true/trefwoord/photographer_formal/Hugo%2C%20Pieter
  19. ^ World press photo award 2005, BBC.co.uk
  20. ^ http://www.arttimes.co.za/news_read.php?news_id=848
  21. ^ John Fowles, Wormholes: Essays and Occasional Writings. London: Jonathan Cape, 1998, p. 16.
  22. ^ Law-Viljoen, Bronwyn. ‘Pieter Hugo: The Critical Zone of Engagement.’ Aperture. Spring 2007.
  23. ^ "Portrait intime de l'Afrique du Sud par Pieter Hugo" par Stéphanie Pioda dans Artistik Rezo 19 janvier 2015.
  24. ^ http://www.yossimilo.com/artists/piet_hugo/?show_bio=bio

External links[edit]