Pieter Hugo was born 1976 and grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. He is a South African photographer who primarily works in portraiture and whose work engages with both documentary and art traditions with a focus on African communities. Hugo is self-taught, having picked up a camera aged 10. He remembers the first image he printed, which was a homeless person in Johannes. After working in the film industry in Cape Town, Pieter Hugo spent a two-year Residency at Fabrica, Treviso, Italy.
Hugo has called himself 'a political-with-a-small-p photographer... it's hard not to be as soon as you pick up a camera in South Africa'. He believes that "the power of photography is inherently voyeuristic but I want that desire to look to be confronted." He also states that he is 'deeply suspicious of the power of photography'. Early on in his career he noticed that, "he often found himself being critically scrutinized by the subject he was photographing. It was then that he decided to switch to a larger and more cumbersome format of photography, one that would require negotiating consent and dialogue with the person being photographed - a more sedate and contemplative approach." He is known to use a Hasselblad camera and regularly shoots in the 4x5 format. His influences range from South African photojournalist David Goldblatt to Boris Mikhailov. However, his work reacts against 'the culture of realism that defined South African photography in the struggle years.' Hugo's first major photo collection Looking Aside' consisted of a collection of portraits of people "whose appearance makes us look aside", his subjects including the blind, people with albinism, the aged, his family and himself. Explaining his interest in the marginal he has said, "My homeland is Africa, but I'm white. I feel African, whatever that means, but if you ask anyone in South Africa if I'm African, they will almost certainly say no. I don't fit into the social topography of my country and that certainly fuelled why I became a photographer." This was followed by "RWANDA 2004: VESTIGES OF A GENOCIDE" which the Rwanda Genocide Institute describes as offering "a forensic view of some of the sites of mass execution and graves that stand as lingering memorials to the many thousands of people slaughtered." His most recognized work is the series called 'The Hyena & Other Men' and which was published as a monograph. It has received a great deal of attention.
Hugo won first prize in the Portraits section of the World Press Photo 2005 for a portrait of a man with a hyena. In 2007, Hugo received the Standard Bank Young Artist Award 07. Hugo was also working on a series of photographs called 'Messina/Mussina' that were taken in the town of Musina on the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa and which was published as a monograph. At the time Colors magazine asked Hugo to work on an AIDS story and he was fascinated by the marginal aspect of the town. This was followed by a return to Nigeria with 'Nollywood', which consists of pictures of the Nigerian film industry. 'Permanent Error' followed in 2011 where Hugo photographed the people and landscape of an expansive dump of obsolete technology in Ghana. Sean O'Toole writes 'if Nollywood was playfully over-the-top, a smart riposte to accusations of freakishness and racism levelled at his photography..., Permanent Error marks Hugo’s return to a less self-reflexive mode of practice.' In 2011 Hugo collaborated with Michel Cleary and co-directed the video of South African producer/DJ Spoek Mathambo's cover version of Joy Division's She's Lost Control, the fourth single from his album Mshini Wam.
Commissioned by Italian luxury label Bottega Veneta, Hugo photographed models Amanda Murphy and Mark Cox for the brand’s spring/summer 2014 campaign, with the images shot in a wood in New Jersey.
In the Spring of 2014, Hugo was commissioned by Creative Court to go to Rwanda and capture stories of forgiveness as a part of Creative Court's project Rwanda 20 Years: Portraits of Forgiveness. The project was displayed in The Hague in the Atrium of The Hague City Hall for the 20th commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. A selection of the photos have also been displayed in New York at the exhibition "Post-Conflict" which was curated by Bradley McCallum, Artist in Residence for the Coalition for the International Criminal Court.