Pieter Hugo   
Al Hasan, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, from the series Permanent Error, 2009, C-Print, 98 x 98 cm

born 1976 in Johannesburg (South Africa)
Lives and works in Cape Town (South Africa)

On the outskirts of Accra, the capital of Ghana, there is a huge garbage dump: the landfill of Agbogbloshie. The area was formerly a natural lagoon landscape with diverse flora and fauna and is now one of the most polluted places in the world. Around 6,000 people live and work on the site. The electronic waste, mainly imported from Europe, is sorted by hand, in particular by children and adolescents. They burn cables and technical equipment in improvised fireplaces to extract metals such as copper and aluminum, which produces highly toxic clouds of smoke. It is an apocalyptic landscape. The inhabitants themselves call it “Sodom and Gomorrah”. South African-born photographer and artist Pieter Hugo has visited the area twice and created photographic portraits of some of the people there. He presents these people in their working environment. He has also photographed their often-makeshift accommodation, the mountainous scrap heaps, as well as the cattle and dogs that live there sporadically.

The series, entitled Permanent Error, gives a frightening glimpse into life in a world of electronic rubbish that exemplifies the impact of globalized markets. It seems remote to us in every respect and yet it is intimately linked with our own actions. Pieter Hugo, who previously worked as a photojournalist for international newspapers and today concentrates exclusively on freelance artistic projects, creates fascinating, highly confusing images. Precisely because the images are not accusations and demand no pity or sympathy, they hold a special power. In the two exhibited photographic works, we meet two proud young men. They look at us confidently. Hugo does not show misery in these photographs. He shows the men’s confidence in their own strength and abilities. Nevertheless, one cannot fail to notice the hopeless situation, the shameful poverty. Hugo does not explain, he does not classify. It is entirely up to us to decide how we will take in this foreign place, these people whose lives are unknown to us. With Permanent Error, Hugo creates surprising pictures of our present time, which seems to be increasingly incomprehensible in its complexity.


Text: Ingo Clauß