Frederica Miller on ‘Corporeality’ at Galerie Priska Pasquer, Jan 30 – April 11, 2015
Galerie Priska Pasquer, Köln, is currently home to ‘Corporeality’, the first exhibition in Germany to focus exclusively on the work of South African photographer Pieter Hugo. Hugo is an internationally acclaimed photo-artist whose bold portraits of contemporary African life have seen him described as ‘one of the greatest photographers of our time.’
Hugo, who began his career as a photojournalist, has dedicated more than a decade to travelling throughout Africa documenting the lives of the continent’s least likely communities. Having photographed everyone from people with albinism to Nollywood film stars he has amassed a large body of work within a relatively short space of time. Hugo’s wide range of subjects serve to depict a patchwork continent in which he feels like ‘a piece of colonial driftwood.’
When I asked him about the concept behind ‘Corporeality’ at the opening Hugo described it as ‘an inroad into my trajectory as a portrait photographer.’ The show brings together images from several series including: ‘The Hyena and Other Men’ (2007), ‘Permanent Error’ (2009-2010) and ‘There’s A Place in Hell for Me and My Friends’ (2011-2012.) Whilst the high demand for Hugo’s work, and the limited space at Priska Pasquer mean that a restricted number of photographs are on show, (the artist himself joked that ‘Corporeality’ consists of ‘what was available,’) the chosen few images that make up the exhibition give an effective overview of the conflicts and questions that permeate his work.
In an attempt to maximise the work on display several of Hugo’s books have been left out to leaf through and their is a video installation inspired by the series ‘Permanent Error’ (2009-2010.) Shot on the rubbish heaps of Accra, the series documents the lives of local men who earn a living picking scrap metal out of the smouldering piles of waste which have been dumped there by the developed world. The video installation consists of live footage from the shoot and shows several alternating frames in which we hear Hugo photographing his subjects.
Whilst every aspect of ‘Corporeality’ is striking the exhibition’s most intriguing element is perhaps when Hugo turns the camera on himself. ‘There’s A Place in Hell for Me and My Friends’ (2011-2012) is a series of platinum prints that Hugo took of himself and South African friends. The colour channels of each portrait have been manipulated to blur the line between black and white. Although these darkened portraits at first seem to create a grey middle-grown in which colour no longer exists, they simultaneously show up the imperfections on each of the subjects’ skin. The exposed sunspots and blood vessels cleverly hint at South Africa’s broken dream of a ‘Rainbow Nation.’
Despite being small ‘Corporeality’ successfully relays the power of Hugo’s work. His portraits reject any notion of frailty and dispel the popular Western perception of Africa as a ‘helpless’ continent. ‘Corporeality’ skilfully captures the lives of fearless individuals who are making the most out of the waste that others have left them with.
Frederica Miller is a freelance writer from London now living in Cologne. She has recently started her blog https://thisaintberlin.wordpress.com/