Friday, May 24, 2013

Photographer : Pieter Hugo

Today's Shoot That Thursday is a very special one. Thanks to Ali, the blogger behind Style StreetStalker, I found a marvellous photographer. His name  is Pieter Hugo and he is from South Africa. Why am I telling you where he is from ? Simply because his main subject is Africa and  as an African himself I think seeing his vision of the continent really worth it. But I can't hide you that my choice to introduce him to you is also because I  have african roots and it was impossible for me not to be touched by his pictures.  Hence the reason why the format of today's post will be different, a mix between my own story and what I saw in Pieter Hugo's pictures.



I am French, this for sure, but I also have cameroonian blood running through my veins. Even if for a long time I denied my african origins they definitely are a part of me. I was born in Douala, Cameroon and left it when I was 3. I came back there around 8 and lived there until I was 12. Though I spent most of my life in France, it would be a lie to say that I wasn't influenced by my living in Africa. My father spent something like 30 years roaming Central Africa for his work, during all that time he built up a pretty huge collection of masks, statuettes, jewelry and even traditional clothing. So be it in France or in Cameroon I've always been surrounded by Africa and its legends. Each time my father would acquire an object, he would look for where it was from, to which ethnic group it belonged, its function and the story behind it. And once he knew, he would tell my brother and I about what he found. He even wrote the stories for us to read and remember. I think it was his way to tell us that we shouldn't be ashamed of our roots, that Africa also has a beautiful History other than the colonial one. Knowing the stories behind each mask or statuette was like reading a History or fairy tale book but it was also like a treasure hunt, because in Subsaharian Africa unfortunately, there is no written evidences before the coming of the settlers and especially the missionaries. The culture being oral to look for informations you have to talk to the elders and if like in my mother's family nobody is interested in History, well, you will know nothing. That is why I remember my father looking for elders belonging to my mother's ethnic group to get the more accurate informations possible.
In case you were wondering where Cameroon is :



So what's the link between my personal story and the photographer Pieter Hugo ? I believe it's my love for traditions and History in Africa. Pieter went to Ghana, Nigeria and Rwanda and each time his pictures of the places he went to really captivated me. The way he is depicting Africa in his pictures is different from what I have seen so far that is why I am deeply moved by his work. It certainly has to do with his being african, indeed as such his vision, in my opinion, differs from a photographer coming from another part of the world. Though in his photographs you can see what Africa is usually labelled for (poverty and war), I don't feel he is doing it in a way to stigmatize the continent, on the contrary. Each serie of pictures is accompanied by a text written by him or another writer explaining us his approach, his perception of what he saw and above all the most important part according to me, the point of view of the locals. Although I said I was moved by his pictures I believe that I wouldn't have fully understood what they meant if I didn't read the texts accompanying them. Shoot That Thursday mission is to put words on pictures but in the case of Pieter Hugo, his writing is needed because sincerely the knowledge we have about Africa is very superficial. My father often says that there is no Africa but Africas to significate the numerous realities existing in one country of this continent. To give you an example, the inhabitants of Cameroon from the point of view of an outsider are all Cameroonians which explains why sometimes I get asked if I know how to speak cameroonian. But if you come to my country you will hear english, french, pidgin english, and something like 200 dialects which means that you have 200 different ethnic groups only in Cameroon, so asking me if I speak cameroonian sounds funny when you are aware of all that. Add to this protestantism, Islam, catholicism and animism and you will obtain the most complex realities ever. If Cameroon is this complex imagine for the other countries ! 
The reason why I find Pieter Hugo interesting is because not only he knows how to individuate these societies because of his wonderful pictures but he also opens our mind about them thanks to his insightful writing. They say a photograph speaks by itself but if you don't know a thing about what you are seeing, you will certainly be moved if the picture is gorgeous but you won't learn anything. 




I chose this photograph from the serie "The Hyena & Other Men" because it depicts a society which I don't know : the Gadawan Kura or Hyena handlers/guides. This scene takes place in Abuja, Nigeria, a country I don't know though it shares borders with Cameroon. In my country it is really rare to see people with animals at home or by the street and even less with a hyena ! So seeing this picture I just found it extraordinary. Not only in Disney's The King Lion hyenas are bad animals but also in the african culture in general. Usually they always have the role of the most vicious and bad one in fairy tales and I guess that they are still considered as such today knowing they are often shot for no particular reason by hunters. So I find this photograph very special because of this little baby girl tenderly sitted on the back of this hyena as if it was the cutest dog ever. Her gentle glance totally contrasts with the ferocious jaw its handler is making obvious. As soon as I saw this scene, I immediately thought that the knowledge of the Gadawan Kura was ancestral and that they certainly have some potions and prayers to prevent them from being bitten by the hyenas, I was also able to figure out that these men were some kind of travelling minstrels that were outcasts in Nigeria. 
The danger of having an oral culture is that History can be forgotten but the magic of it is that sometimes, just like in the case of the Gadawan Kura, it goes through time. I would probably be terrified if I were to meet them in person but still I would find them fascinating because in my eyes they embody the relationship between men and animals. I really advise you to pay a visit to Pieter Hugo's site and especially to this serie because you will see different facets of this relationship I am telling you about. Last thing, READ the texts accompanying the series, you won't be disappointed !


If you went to Pieter Hugo's site, don't hesitate to comment here or send me an email to tell me what was your favourite serie and why. I am very curious about your vision !
Rendez-vous sur Hellocoton !

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