Many myths surround the Hyena Men who haunt the peripheries of Nigeria’s cities. Accompanied by hyenas, rock pythons and baboons, these men earn a living by performing before crowds and selling traditional medicines.
The Hyena and Other Men – How it started
Case in point, Hugo’s The Hyena and Other Men (2005-2007), which is by far one of his most talked-about projects, was not planned and was serendipitous in many ways. This series comprises images of Nigerian men who keep tamed baboons and hyenas as pets. The portraits are quite bold and, as you can imagine, very unsettling to the eyes while at the same time conveying the sense of personal and intimacy.
It all started in 2003 after Hugo received images of Nigeria’s Gadawan Kura, or hyena handlers, from a friend taken by a mobile phone camera through a car window in the street of Lagos, Nigeria.
Who is Pieter Hugo?
Pieter Hugo is one of South Africa’s most recognizable photographers most notably known today for his Hyena and Other Men series. During his nascent career, he was mainly practicing photojournalism before realizing he was not doing enough with his skills. He wanted to get more involved and engaged, to aggressively cross-examine the voyeuristic scrutiny that is intrinsic in photography instead of ignoring it. As a result, Hugo developed his signature style, which involves gallant portraits that directly confront the viewer. And with this new photography technique, Hugo has had a substantial impact on the field.
Hugo’s work, which has been deemed controversial in some quarters, has stimulated varying reactions and maintained his pledge to an authentic and direct approach. Hugo has traversed numerous countries in Africa, capturing the real lives of the locals through his lenses.
Pieter has made a habit of photographing African landscapes and its marginalized people, so it does not come as a shock that his body of work consists of peculiar subjects such as albinos, the blind and even AIDS victims lying dead in their coffins. Pieter has never been afraid to push boundaries and it shows in his photographs. The end goal of many of his celebrated works has been to address the complex realities of race and identity issues in marginalized African societies through his photographs.
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