Pieter Hugo is a photographer from Johannesburg currently living in Cape Town, South Africa. After becoming disillusioned with the programmatic nature of his assignments as a photojournalist, his subsequent work has brought a stylised aesthetic to his fascination with the continent’s subcultures. His work raises many questions in its exploration of Western held notions about African identity and representation. Working in collaboration with practitioners from the Nollywood film industry the images are evidently artificial and examine our propensity to sentimentalise and stereotype ‘the exotic other’.
Nollywood is said to be the third largest film industry in the world, releasing onto the home video market approximately 1000 movies each year. Such abundance is possible since films are realized in conditions that would make most of the western independent directors cringe. Movies are produced and marketed in the space of a week: low cost equipment, very basic scripts, actors cast the day of the shooting, “real life” locations. Despite the improvised production process, they continue to fascinate audiences.
In Africa, Nollywood movies are a rare instance of self-representation in the mass media.The continent has a rich tradition of story-telling that has been expressed abundantly through oral and written fiction, but has never been conveyed through the mass media before.
Movies tell stories that appeal to and reflect the lives of its public: stars are local actors; plots confront the viewer with familiar situations of romance, comedy, witchcraft, bribery, prostitution. The narrative is overdramatic, deprived of happy endings, tragic. The aesthetic is loud, violent, excessive; nothing is said, everything is shouted.
In his travels through West Africa, Hugo has been intrigued by this distinct style in constructing a fictional world where everyday and unreal elements intertwine. By asking a team of actors and assistants to recreate Nollywood myths and symbols as if they were on movie sets, Hugo initiated the creation of a verisimilar reality. His vision of the film industry’s interpretation of the world results in a gallery of hallucinatory and unsettling images.
The tableaux of the series depict situations clearly surreal but that could be real on a set; furthermore, they are rooted in the local symbolic imaginary. The boundaries between documentary and fiction become very fluid, and we are left wondering whether our perceptions of the real world are indeed real.
Posted by Aoife Giles