January 7, 2009
South African photographer Pieter Hugo has produced yet another intriguing punch-you-in-the-gut project titled Nollywood. It's a collection of portraits of actors in the Nigerian Film Industry recreating typical scenes from Nollywood movies which are produced by the thousands often direct to video. I haven't seen many Nollywood films but what I have seen reminds me very much of pulp-filled Mexican cinema of the 60's of the 70's which were filled with stories the extreme and the macabre. I grew up on the Santo series for example in which El Santo a masked hero would battle vampire women, martians, the blue demons, and of course (always) the armies of the undead. There were similarly extreme Mexican westerns, telenovelas (soaps), musicals, and science fiction. All were making movie magic and capturing the popular imagination of millions of people with the slimmest of budgets and improvised props. These were not mainstream films, but rather pulp shown on late night TV and later distributed by video. The pulp Nollywood films I've seen are similar. If you had undertaken an analogous photography project in Mexico 30 years ago you would have ended up with many similar archetypes— images influenced by Western cinema, but made uniquely local and encoded with popular mythologies.
Pieter's work also always brings up questions of race, identity, and of the photographer's gaze and this project like so many of his projects provokes questions, demands attention, and is at once intriguing, maddening, and exhilarating.
Related: Stefan Ruiz and Pieter Hugo worked together at Colors Magazine for a few years and intentionally or not they seem to influence each other. Check out Stefan's project called Telenovelas in which photographs the stars of telenovelas on the Mexico City sets of their shows.