Christ, this man has a hyena in a muzzle.
Christ, this baboon’s wearing a football* jersey and riding on the back of a motorbike.
These are from South African photographer Pieter Hugo’s first U.S. solo show, which opened last week at Yossi Milo gallery. The main series in the show, a group of Nigerians with a menagerie of hyenas, monkeys, and snakes, were originally captured on film by photojournalists who assumed they were money collectors or criminals. Hugo tracked the group down and discovered they were actually traveling performers. And after the ‘holy crap’ moment passes, your delayed reaction is to notice the familial aspect between the men and their animals. These are pets and they have a bond. It’s a pretty loyal baboon that wears clothes and poses for a portrait on the back of a motorcycle.
His second series on view at the gallery, the Honey Collectors, won’t get the attention the Hyena Men do, but they are strange and haunting in their own sylvan way. Honestly, the look like they could be militants. Just as the journalists naturally assumed that the Hyena Men were bandits, the Honey Collectors could pass as camouflaged guerrillas. This is West Africa, after all, and our impressions of the region are partial and skewed for the worse. Hugo’s photographs force us to second guess our first impressions.
The prints are suitably Chelsea-sized and pack a punch that jpegs don’t. They are worth a viewing. There is also a catalogue published by Prestel, which (per Amazon) will be available to the public in February.