Pieter Hugo (b. 1976; Johannesburg, South Africa) traverses studio portraiture, documentary photography, and staged compositions in his confrontational and ever-evolving photography practice. Across his many bodies of work, the artist has a long-standing interest in how history, environmental conditions, and the passage of time inscribe themselves on a culture, leaving traces of evidence in the lives of everyday people and objects.
Whether delving into subcultures on the peripheries of society, documenting the aftermath of political conflict, photographing his own family members, or scrutinizing inwards with self-portraiture, Hugo always manages to pierce through exteriors, no matter how fantastical or seemingly out of the ordinary, to reach a common humanity that binds us all. As a South African, Hugo is constantly in search of what it means to possess that title, using his portraiture to investigate the country's tumultuous history and unstable social conditions. Shot over eight years, the series Kin is dedicated to this search, exploring South Africa's landscapes, peoples, and troubling racial and economic tensions. Kin is an attempt at understanding the nature of conflicting personal and collective narratives, and evaluating the gap between society's ideals and its realities.
Others of Hugo's series, including The Hyena Men, Nollywood, and La Cucaracha, venture into cultures outside the artist's own, portraying the archetypal characters he becomes acquainted with through his travels. The portraits of The Hyena Men feature groupings of men and animals surrounded by the barren urban centers of northern Nigeria. Taken during quiet moments between the spectacles of street performances, the photographs depict a stillness that subverts the tense physicality of the animals and their trainers. Nollywood focuses on performers from the same country's film industry, who lean into the macabre and melodramatic, making eerie subjects for photographs that totter between documentary and fiction. The series of photos presented in La Cucaracha feature both deliberately staged vignettes and raw, vibrantly colored images of everyday people and landscapes across Mexico. No matter his subject, Hugo brings a profound reverence and curiosity to all aspects of his practice, yielding images that, in the artist's own words, highlight "the fabulousness of the banal and the banality of the exotic."
Pieter Hugo's work is held in multiple institutional collections across the globe, including those of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Metropolitan Museum of New York, NY; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Vicotria & Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom, and the Centre Pompidou, Paris, France. The artist is the recipient of several awards, including First Prize in the 2015 PDN Photo Annual Award; 2008 Discovery Award at the Rencontres d'Arles Festival; the 2008 KLM Paul Huf Award; and First Prize in the 2016 World Press Photo's Portraits section. Hugo has presented solo exhibitions at the Foam Fotografiemuseum in Amsterdam; Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Dortmund, Germany; and the MAXXI Museum, Rome, Italy, among others. Pieter Hugo currently lives and works near Cape Town.