Thursday, 15 October 2009

Image copyright Pieter Hugo

Heavy discussions going on about whether or not Pieter Hugo's work is racist. HERE, and HERE. Of course these things need to be discussed and there's far cleverer people than me doing it so I don't want get involved in the back and forth. Too much rhetorical rigour for this numpty I'll just end up shouting arse or something.

No I don't claim to be an academic I tend to work via gut instinct which is fine as an artist that's as important a trait as anything. I know I'm not black and I'm sure I can't begin to understand all the issues but I really like these pictures always have. Maybe I'm a bit odd but far from seeing something derogatory in that image I just think "Fuck me a hyena on a lead that's top, that blokes the bollox"

A Nigerian (black) friend of mine who now lives in Manchester thought the same when I showed him. He was positivly proud and started to take the piss out of local scallies and their piss poor Staffies.

The other thing I'm confused about is this. Lets pretend that these images are never going to end up in a gallery and lets pretend that Pieter Hugo has no ambitions to be an artist, what if he was a pure documentary or reportage photographer, would that be OK to photograph the Hyena men? The speed things change in this world the Hyena men may not be around 50, 100 years from now. Surely photographing them for posterity is worth while? We can always remove them at a later date if we still don't like them Orwellian style. These are questions asked HERE. I guess I'm so used to constantly seeing pictures of Africans being portrayed as victims that I only saw the positive in this work. I thought it was a refreshing change.

6 comments:

Daniel said...

That's what I thought, hello, how many men can say they have a pet hyena!

Thing is, it's do and be dammed. You shoot miserable black kid images and get told you are portraying them as victims, you then shoot men going about their lives in Lagos and you are portraying them as victims, and going back to colonial times.

you can't win.

Now, I'm off to see a man about a wild dog!

marcus doyle said...

Mark,
I was going to post about this but obviously great minds think alike and I agree with everything you say. I have always found these images pretty amazing and doubt Hugo will ever top it, but so what..
What I find most amazing is the tension the images create and the feeling that its all about to kick off, you just cant mimic that.
There will always be twits trying to over analyse images looking for trouble.
There blokes with wild beasts, and there brilliant.
Thats it...

Mark Page said...

Fella's thanks for the comments. To be honest I've found this whole debate perplexing. I'm utterly confused as to why Hugo's work has been singled out in this way when I can think of such worse offender's. Jeez has nobody been on Magnum's site recently or sifted through the tons of shite on LIGHTSTALKERS? These pictures make the subject look fucking great. My poor old cat noodle is sick of pretending to be a Hyena...

Stan B. said...

I can only hope that I could've taken portraits this good presented with this subject matter. I am however somewhat "concerned" with his Nollywood series- and as to how it plays to the American mindset with its long history of racist imagery and symbolism which, unfortunately, those particular images exude...

One would hope any group of people capable of taking that essay simply for what it is and what it portrays, but again, we live in America, where a photo of Obama in traditional African dresss is offered as "proof" positive that he is a Muslim terrorist...

Mark Page said...

OK so "Hyena men" good and I'll admit that "Nollywood" could be read as a touch "Heart Of Darkness" I do think that they are also strong images that do raise questions and have started debate. Being white and British I read them in a different way than a black American. The central questions though for me is how they are read by Africans of all colour, and do we think that Hugo has had sinister or cyncal motive or if the subject was knowingly exploited. Why should an African photographer be obliged to worry about the reaction of America?
Perhaps if anyone should have the finger pointed it's American gallery owners/publishers for being in the know and still showcasing.

Stan B. said...

Hyena Men are outstanding portraits; do they fall into a rather unfortunate category of photographic history? Yes. Should he be crucified for that? No. My opinion.

The Nollywood images may be perfectly innocent, complimentary and celebratory in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. But the racist connotations and symbolism in that particular imagery, no matter how naive or innocent the original intent, can be found in scores of racist "literature" dating from slavery to the present here in the US, and beyond.

And if he's going to promote, exhibit and sell that work in countries with such legacies- yes, the artist has a certain degree of responsibility for that work, and to that particular audience.