Pieter Hugo is a 44-year-old South African photographer born in Johannesburg, now based in Cape Town. Being a white African man and struggling to fit in, his subject of interest is Africa. He is well-known for exploring marginalized communities in Africa through his stark and provocative photography art.

The albinos, the blind, people with AIDS, the elderly, Ghanaian honey collectors, workers at the electronics dumpsite on the outskirts of Accra in Ghana, actors in the Nigerian movie industry known as Nollywood, Nigerian hyena handlers, and children who survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide are all among the subjects of Hugo's almost two decades of work.

His candid portraits show the world around him addressing culture, issues of class, identity, and privilege. The photographer described his work to Bored Panda as "direct, engaged, scrutinizing." We've collected the best of his powerful images. Don't forget to tell us what you think in the comments!

More info: pieterhugo.com | Instagram

#1

Abdulai Yahaya, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2010, "Permanent Error"

Abdulai Yahaya, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2010, "Permanent Error"

Pieter Hugo Report

Warren Eakins
Community Member
1 year ago

An absolutely stunning portrait.

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Pieter Hugo started off his career as a photojournalist, but being a "fly on the wall" didn't sit well with him. However, his work opened up possibilities to explore his interests and find his own style.

"I was not a particularly good photojournalist. I was useless at being a fly on the wall. I wanted to make work that was more considered. The problem of my presence I made into the crux of my practice—acknowledging my presence, acknowledging the energy and dynamics between myself and my subjects. I think of my portraiture as slow journalism," Hugo told Bored Panda.

#2

Loyiso Mayga, Wandise Ngcama, Lunga White, Luyanda Mzantsi And Khungsile Mdolo After Their Initiation Ceremony, Mthatha, 2008, "Kin"

Loyiso Mayga, Wandise Ngcama, Lunga White, Luyanda Mzantsi And Khungsile Mdolo After Their Initiation Ceremony, Mthatha, 2008, "Kin"

Pieter Hugo Report

Samantha Comerford
Community Member
1 year ago

Most men are dressing like this now, it a fashion thing . It looks good

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#3

Mallam Galadima Ahmadu With Jamis, Nigeria, 2005, "The Hyena And Other Men"

Mallam Galadima Ahmadu With Jamis, Nigeria, 2005, "The Hyena And Other Men"

Pieter Hugo Report

Brigs
Community Member
1 year ago

What is going on in this photo and why would you take a picture of such dire cruelty?

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We asked Hugo what inspires his photography.

"I think inspiration comes in many forms. The challenge is to cultivate one’s perceptiveness to ideas. I do not have an overt goal. Mostly inspiration for work comes out of a desire to engage with the world. To look at it. To analyze it. To respond to it. Various projects have different ambitions. Some are concerned with the veracity of the portrait, others are born from a curious wanderlust."

#4

Pieter And Maryna Vermeulen With Timana Phosiwa, "Messina/Musina"

Pieter And Maryna Vermeulen With Timana Phosiwa, "Messina/Musina"

Pieter Hugo Report

Sinkvenice
Community Member
1 year ago

So many questions! :-D

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#5

Abdullahi Mohammed With Mainasara, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria, 2007, "The Hyena And Other Men"

Abdullahi Mohammed With Mainasara, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria, 2007, "The Hyena And Other Men"

Pieter Hugo Report

clever username
Community Member
1 year ago

i had no idea hyenas were so big

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Hugo said that his interest in highlighting the reality of marginalized communities across Africa developed organically: "At the beginning of my career, I often had commissions around Africa. While on commission (or while researching a commission), I would often stumble across ideas and subjects that I felt deserved a longer and more scrutinous approach."

Portraits of Africa mark an early stage of his career; Hugo said he now has a much more global worldview and has personal work in the USA, China, Mexico, UK, France, and Nepal, among other parts of the world.

#6

At A Traffic Intersection, Johannesburg, 2011, "Kin"

At A Traffic Intersection, Johannesburg, 2011, "Kin"

Pieter Hugo Report

Zoe Hoesley
Community Member
1 year ago

Poor child

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#7

Naasra Yeti, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2009, "Permanent Error"

Naasra Yeti, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2009, "Permanent Error"

Pieter Hugo Report

E. Rangel
Community Member
1 year ago

What does hell does permanent error mean that is written on various pictures

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This photo gallery illustrates Rwanda, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa through Hugo's lens and consists of portraits from various photography series the artist has collected over the years. Featured in this article are shots from some of Hugo's most popular series: Looking Aside, Kin, Permanent Error, The Hyena and Other Men, Wild Honey Collectors, 1994, and Messina/Musina.

In his project "Looking Aside," Hugo intimately captures people whose appearance makes us look aside: albinos, the blind, the elderly, and even his own family. He makes us confront our prejudice toward people who are unusual and different in some ways.

"Photography was being used by the state as a tool of classification and separation. All South Africans were required to carry a photo ID. My series turns this loaded compositional style on its head to document people marginalised by the glib visual propaganda of the ‘new,’ liberated South Africa," Hugo explains on his website the frame he deliberately chose for the series.

#8

Garuba Yawu With Mora, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria, 2007, "The Hyena And Other Men"

Garuba Yawu With Mora, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria, 2007, "The Hyena And Other Men"

Pieter Hugo Report

Brigs
Community Member
1 year ago

Monkeys are treated with terrible cruelty in Africa. They are fed alcohol and made to perform tricks, kept in horrifying conditions and treated very badly.

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#9

Yakubu Al Hasan, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2009, "Permanent Error"

Yakubu Al Hasan, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2009, "Permanent Error"

Pieter Hugo Report

Tantalum_Radium
Community Member
1 year ago

It’s an interesting shot, it makes me want to find a photo series of the very wealthy areas of Ghana and understand the divide between rich and poor, see the contrast for myself.

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"Permanent Error" depicts a massive dumpsite for technological waste from around the world on the outskirts of Ghana’s capital city, Accra, and the locals who collect and burn down the components to extract bits of valuable metals for resale, creating toxic waste and putting the area in danger.

"I think it is fair to say that Agbogbloshie is a dark and dirty monument to the digital age, to our faith in technology, and its built-in obsolescence. This idea of surplus and waste, which is key to our digital experience, is not one that many people seem comfortable addressing. Being in an environment like this, where geopolitical imbalances are being exploited to effectively dump waste on poor countries, it is hard not to take a political position," Hugo says.

#10

Agbogbloshie Market, Zakaria Salifu, Accra, Ghana, 2010, "Permanent Error"

Agbogbloshie Market, Zakaria Salifu, Accra, Ghana, 2010, "Permanent Error"

Pieter Hugo Report

Carole Deem
Community Member
1 year ago

This is 2010 here. But will probably be the same in 2024

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#11

Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana 2009, "Permanent Error"

Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana 2009, "Permanent Error"

Pieter Hugo Report

GalaxyZo
Community Member
1 year ago

poor man i cant believe how many people actually have to do this :\

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"The Hyena and Other Men," shot in Nigeria, is the most popular series, which portrays a group of itinerants who perform with hyenas, baboons, and pythons to entertain crowds and sell traditional medicines. The striking photos explore the relationship between people and animals they have taken out of the wild as pups.

"The hyena men are a family and what they do with the animals has a long history and traditions. I don’t agree with it. But I can see the beauty in their relationships with the animals. And cruelty. I guess like all relationships, there are multiple dynamics at play. It's opaque to me. It’s difficult to take a judgmental position towards them. They are also dealing with economic realities different from most people in the world," Hugo told us.

#12

Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2010, "Permanent Error"

Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2010, "Permanent Error"

Pieter Hugo Report

David Retsler
Community Member
1 year ago

What are they burning and why? (Styrofoam?)

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#13

Paul Ankomah, Wild Honey Collector, Techiman District, Ghana, 2005, "Wild Honey Collectors"

Paul Ankomah, Wild Honey Collector, Techiman District, Ghana, 2005, "Wild Honey Collectors"

Pieter Hugo Report

Ellen Ranks
Community Member
1 year ago

Sweet!

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"Wild Honey Collectors" captures men in central Ghana covered in leaves and plastic bags. They perform a very dangerous job of harvesting honey from wild bee colonies.

"Honey is harvested by burning the tree nests. As a result, the honey often has soot in it and can only be sold at local markets for low prices. It is a very destructive form of labour, but it is their only means of earning a living," Hugo writes on his website.

#14

Aron Twala, Vrede, 2006, "Looking Aside"

Aron Twala, Vrede, 2006, "Looking Aside"

Pieter Hugo Report

Talie Bocci
Community Member
1 year ago

Beautiful

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#15

Regina Kambule, Johannesburg, 2003, "Looking Aside"

Regina Kambule, Johannesburg, 2003, "Looking Aside"

Pieter Hugo Report

Ellen Ranks
Community Member
1 year ago

Being an albino in Africa can be very hard. They are outcasts in many places because of their "weird" looks, meaning they have to beg for food and do not have money to buy any protection against the relentless sun. Skin cancer is very common. Even worse, in some countries they are at risk of being killed for body parts to be used in witchcraft.

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"1994" is a series that captures children from South Africa and Rwanda born after 1994. Both countries were marked by major historical events in 1994 and the series depicts a generation of children growing up in the post-revolutionary era.

"Most of the images were taken in villages around Rwanda and South Africa. There’s a thin line between nature being seen as idyllic and as a place where terrible things happen—permeated by genocide, a constantly contested space. Seen as a metaphor, it’s as if the further you leave the city and its systems of control, the more primal things become. At times the children appear conservative, existing in an orderly world; at other times there’s something feral about them, as in Lord of the Flies, a place devoid of rules. This is most noticeable in the Rwanda images where clothes donated from Europe, with particular cultural significations, are transposed into a completely different context."

#16

South Africa, 2016, "1994"

South Africa, 2016, "1994"

Pieter Hugo Report

Sue Giles
Community Member
1 year ago

She looks so out of place,

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#17

Rwanda, 2014, "1994"

Rwanda, 2014, "1994"

Pieter Hugo Report

R L
Community Member
1 year ago

Oh child. It should not be like this.

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The series "Kin" captures the intimate and public South Africa through portraits, landscapes, and still lifes and explores its deeply rooted social issues.

"South Africa is such a fractured, schizophrenic, wounded and problematic place. It is a very violent society; the scars of colonialism and apartheid still run deep. Issues of race and cultural custodianship permeate every aspect of society, and the legacy of forced racial segregation casts a long shadow. How does one live in this society? How does one take responsibility for history, and to what extent should one try? How do you raise a family in such a conflicted society?" Hugo writes.

The artist took a similar approach in his project about South Africa's northernmost town on the border with Zimbabwe, Musina. He reflects the wounds and scars of race, class, and nationality that persist there.

#18

Rwanda, 2014, "1994"

Rwanda, 2014, "1994"

Pieter Hugo Report

Ames101 Doyle
Community Member
1 year ago

gorgeous!!

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#19

Rwanda, 2015, "1994"

Rwanda, 2015, "1994"

Pieter Hugo Report

Matthew Rasanen
Community Member
1 year ago

This comment has been deleted.

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"The most challenging part of my work is editing. Photographers are gnarly, terrible editors," Hugo said. "The most rewarding part of my work is that it very rarely bores me. It keeps me stimulated and curious."

#20

Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2010, "Permanent Error"

Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2010, "Permanent Error"

Pieter Hugo Report

Jean Shultz
Community Member
1 year ago

Computer keyboard in the foreground. Do western countries use 3rd world countries as their own dumping ground?? I'm sure the leaders of these countries would gladly take the money, but the trash isn't in there own back yards....it should be.

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#21

Dayaba Usman With The Monkey Clear, Nigeria, 2005, "The Hyena And Other Men"

Dayaba Usman With The Monkey Clear, Nigeria, 2005, "The Hyena And Other Men"

Pieter Hugo Report

George-Florin Constantin
Community Member
1 year ago

The monkey resting it's arm on the man's leg, the chain, the golden watch and the dead look in his eyes... This picture is heartbreaking on so many levels.

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Hugo's controversial work has sparked contrasting reactions around the world, but he remains one of the best South African photographers for his honest and direct approach. 

""I’m always surprised by the issues my detractors take with my work. Dialogue is good, right? Having conversations about difficult topics is necessary. If my work provokes debate, I'm happy. It means it is relevant," he said.

His artwork has been shown in major solo exhibitions across the world's best museums such as Museu Coleção Berardo in Lisbon, Museum für Kuns und Kulturgeschichte in Dortmund, The National Portrait Gallery in London, the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane, Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow, Ludwig Museum in Budapest, Fotografiska in Stockholm, MAXXI in Rome, and more as well as many group exhibitions at institutions including Tate Modern, the Folkwang Museum, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, and the São Paulo Bienal.

His photographs have landed in prominent public and private collections, among them MOMA NY, V&A, Centre Pompidou, J Paul Getty Museum, and The Rijks Museum. In 2018, Hugo received the Discovery Award at the Rencontres d'Arles Festival and the KLM Paul Huf Award and in 2011, the Seydou Keita Award at the Rencontres de Bamako African Photography Biennial.

#22

The Hyena Men Of Abuja, Nigeria, 2005, "The Hyena And Other Men"

The Hyena Men Of Abuja, Nigeria, 2005, "The Hyena And Other Men"

Pieter Hugo Report

Carole Deem
Community Member
1 year ago

Are they pets or protection?

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#23

South Africa, 2015, "1994"

South Africa, 2015, "1994"

Pieter Hugo Report

Davidski
Community Member
1 year ago

GOTYE?

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#24

Abdulai Yahaya, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2010, "Permanent Error"

Abdulai Yahaya, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2010, "Permanent Error"

Pieter Hugo Report

Bill
Community Member
1 year ago

Dell, Apple, IBM and HP are responsible for this.

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#25

Mummy Ahmadu And A Snake Charmer With A Rock Python, Abuja, Nigeria, 2005, "The Hyena And Other Men"

Mummy Ahmadu And A Snake Charmer With A Rock Python, Abuja, Nigeria, 2005, "The Hyena And Other Men"

Pieter Hugo Report

Zoe Hoesley
Community Member
1 year ago

Gentle snake friend =3

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#26

Nura Garuba And Friend With Their Monkey, Abuja, Nigeria, 2005, "The Hyena And Other Men"

Nura Garuba And Friend With Their Monkey, Abuja, Nigeria, 2005, "The Hyena And Other Men"

Pieter Hugo Report

Joan Brocklehurst
Community Member
1 year ago

Why do the capture and chain the baboons? Horrible thing to do.

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#27

Martin Kofi, Wild Honey Collector, Techiman District, Ghana, 2005, "Wild Honey Collectors"

Martin Kofi, Wild Honey Collector, Techiman District, Ghana, 2005, "Wild Honey Collectors"

Pieter Hugo Report

Jean Shultz
Community Member
1 year ago

Very hard work to be able to earn a bit of money.

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#28

Issaku Moses, Agbogbloshie Market, Ghana, 2009, "Permanent Error"

Issaku Moses, Agbogbloshie Market, Ghana, 2009, "Permanent Error"

Pieter Hugo Report

Diane Patrick
Community Member
1 year ago

So much pollution.

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#29

Al Hasan Abukari, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2009, "Permanent Error"

Al Hasan Abukari, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2009, "Permanent Error"

Pieter Hugo Report

Tiredpossum
Community Member
1 year ago

it's interesting to see this. I have visited Ghana a few times (I have family there) I only see the great rich parts because if my families social status. It's very eye opening about the poverty there. I will certainly talk to my family about it.

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#30

Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2010, "Permanent Error"

Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2010, "Permanent Error"

Pieter Hugo Report

Jean Shultz
Community Member
1 year ago

Yay.....more toxic fumes. More than what you can inhale......come one, come all. Death will sneak upon you.

Note: this post originally had 115 images. It’s been shortened to the top 30 images based on user votes.