Portraits of a Complex South Africa

The Photo Blog
Oct. 1 2013 11:55 AM

Portraits of a Complex South Africa

Warning: This post contains nudity.

At a traffic intersection, Johannesburg, 2011
At a Traffic Intersection, Johannesburg, 2011

Photo by Pieter Hugo. Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery.

Pieter Hugo’s “Kin” is the photographer’s examination of his native South Africa in which he focuses on his country from both a collective and personal narrative.

“Kin” is highly ambitious: Hugo focuses on issues of race, class, sexuality, and politics while also turning the camera on himself, questioning his place in a society he says is a “fractured, schizophrenic, wounded, and problematic place.”

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Hugo said he has mixed feelings about being in South Africa and says the series is  an engagement with the South African colonial experiment’s failures. “All space and history in South Africa is contested,” Hugo wrote via email. “Some of the images in this series were made because they felt particularly important to the larger narrative, such as the portraits of my family and the people who raised us. … I would travel to places in South Africa to which I have a personal historical affiliation. Once there I would let intuition guide me while making images and try to find gestural images that allude to these colliding historical narratives.”

Left: Rina Veldsman, Monte Rosa Old Age Home, Cape Town, 2013 Right: Mimi Afrika, Wheatland Farm, Graaff-Reinet, 2013
Left: Rina Veldsman, Monte Rosa Old Age Home, Cape Town, 2013. Right: Mimi Afrika, Wheatland Farm, Graaff-Reinet, 2013.

Photos by Pieter Hugo. Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery.

Thoba Calvin and Tshepo Cameron Sithole - Modisane, Pretoria, 2013
Thoba Calvin and Tshepo Cameron Sithole, Modisane, Pretoria, 2013. They were South Africa's first gay couple to marry in a traditional ceremony.

Photo by Pieter Hugo. Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery.

Green Point Common, Cape Town, 2013
Green Point Common, Cape Town, 2013

Photo by Pieter Hugo. Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery.

Currently on view at Yossi Milo Gallery in New York through Oct. 19, the series includes a wide range of subjects seen through landscapes, still life, and portraiture, including those of South African residents, people who have worked for Hugo’s family, and a couple who were part of Africa’s first traditional gay wedding.

Hugo said many of the ideas for the subjects emerged while he was working on the series for eight years, and his feelings about his country shifted throughout the process. “The project drew to a conclusion when my way of 'looking' changed. I am not seeing the world in the same way as when I set out to make this work,” he said.

Meriam ‘Mary’ Tlali, who spent her entire adult life working as a maid for my grandmother, Kroonstad, 2011
Meriam ‘Mary’ Tlali, Kroonstad, 2011. Tlali spent her entire adult life working as a maid for the photographer's grandmother.

Photo by Pieter Hugo. Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery.

Loyiso Mayga, Wandise Ngcama, Lunga White, Luyanda Mzantsi, Khungsile Mdolo after their initiation ceremony, Mthatha, 2008
Loyiso Mayga, Wandise Ngcama, Lunga White, Luyanda Mzantsi, Khungsile Mdolo After Their Initiation Ceremony, Mthatha, 2008

Photo by Pieter Hugo. Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery.

Left: Shaun Oliver, Cape Town, 2011 Right: Samuel Nkosomzi, Cape Town, 2007
Left: Shaun Oliver, Cape Town, 2011. Right: Samuel Nkosomzi, Cape Town, 2007.

Photo by Pieter Hugo. Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery.

Darren and Tara, Durban, 2013
Darren and Tara, Durban, 2013

Photo by Pieter Hugo. Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery.

Louis Matanisa, Cape Town, 2013
Louis Matanisa, Cape Town, 2013

Photo by Pieter Hugo. Courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery.

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