January 7, 2009

Pieter Hugo's Nollywood

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.

posted at 08:16 AM by raul

Filed under: photographers

TAGS: nollywood (1) pieter hugo (5) skeleton men (1) south african photographers (5)


01/07/09 01:34 PM

Funny you mention Nollywood, I watched this talk a few days ago on TED talks:

01/10/09 07:40 AM

his photos are amazing; I like your comment about encoded mythologies. his photos contain all these problems, too...

01/10/09 02:30 PM

impresionante exposición. las composiciones tienen una extraña elegancia, no?

curiosamente no encontré en el sitio la fotografía que posteaste aquí...


01/18/09 08:03 AM

Very strong images. Some of them are hard to look at, but then again, so is life in Africa.

10/15/09 03:22 AM

Just racist. Oh, I get it...its so sublime and like different right? Not really. White guy goes to Africa, zeroes in on what he finds to be eccentric (because there are no lousy B-movie caricatures in the US/wherever) and takes pictures of them. Ultimately, he does nothing but present the same lame images portraying Africans with absolutely no agency. Lifeless Africans. The irony is the subjects are actually actors - the most demonstrative of artists. No exposition of how they got in character, no dimension, no nothing. I need to go barf. Thanks.

Problem 1 - these images are not "typical" of Nollywood movies. They are characters on the extreme end.

Problem 2 - Great. help unenlightened people conflate made up imagery with "real Africa" (see Kimberly comment). Of course, one and the same. Yes, there are actually horned people in Africa. sigh.

Problem 3 - encoded mythologies. Ha. How about you actually speak to a Nigerian sometimes. Its simply not the deep, titillating stuff of your wet dreams. These are renderings of the imaginations of random people no more no less. The "mythologies" are as relevant to Nigeria life as casper is relevant to American life.

But please ignore me. I simply can't understand my world the way you can.

10/15/09 05:42 PM

Pieter is South African and his work inevitably deals with issues of white gaze. He is an artist interested in stories of people at the margins. I can't speak for Pieter but my guess is that he has a deep love of extreme Nollywood cinema. I understand because I imagine it's very analogous to my love of Mexican cinema. Sure there are plenty of everyday dramas that speak to millions of Mexicans but the ones that spoke to me as a kid were the ones with Masked Wrestlers fighting Vampires and sombrero wearing zombies. No artist speaks for a people much less a continent, but I for one believe Pieter has something important/interesting to say and his work should be considered carefully.

11/09/09 08:30 PM

I have to say this is the most disgusting portrait of Nigerians I have ever seen. I watch Nollywood movies all the time and I really had to comment when I saw these pictures.
NO, Our Nigerian Stars absolutely DO NOT dress up like this either on or off screen.
I do not recognize any of the people he used in the pictures. Oprah showed one of our leading ladies (Geneviene Nnaji) when she discussed Nollywood on her show of the famous people.
If you want to know who Nollywood stars are, a simple search on google will show you the pictures. Other Nollywood Stars include Rita Dominic, Ramsey Nouah, Funke Akindele, Emeka Ike, Liz Benson, Stephanie Okereke, Jim Iyke, Desmon Elliot, not to mention the rest.
I am so angry at these photos.

07/30/10 01:24 PM

I believe Nollywood film industry is actually helping the African film industry. It helps Nigerian writers and directors tell our own stories from our own point of view and not Hollywood's point of view. The quality is also getting better and will soon catch up to international standards. Take this new Nollywood film "Anchor Baby" for instance. It was written and directed by a Nigerian director Lonzo Nzekwe and the lead actress is also a Nigeria actress Omoni Oboli. The picture quality is on the same standard as most films shot in Hollywood. Here's a link to their trailer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Yx_kiBOZDA

09/12/12 06:27 AM

His work sells for enormous sums of money to largely foriegn white audiences who hold fairly ignorant views of Africa. The gap between 'us' and 'them' becomes that much larger, the 'mystery' that much deeper, and unfortuantely the popular appeal that much stronger. So is modern photography.

09/13/12 12:03 PM

Would it make a difference if his word didn't sell or if he worked in obscurity? How do you know who buys his art? Again would it make a difference if it was mainly purchased in Mangaung or Lagos? What's important for me is that he shines a light on people, places, and who would otherwise not be seen. A big part of what makes his work art and not documentary is that he is looking and photographing with the gaze of someone who is both African and white. It's that complexity that makes it interesting.

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