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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

PIETER HUGO (article first published : 2006-12-25)

Pieter Hugo's introduction into photography began on his 12th birthday when his father gave him his first camera. Although he has no formal photographic training, he has proven his talent by producing visual essays for print publications including Adbusters, Colors, Dazed & Confused, The New Yorker and the Sunday Times (London). His images document the many and varied global social issues that plague African and developing nations.

He was overwhelmed at being awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in the visual art category and described it as "absolutely amazing". He added, "It means that photography is being recognised as an artistic medium in South Africa and this gives me great pleasure." In his mind, it is of particular importance that the category of visual art broadens to include photography because photography has played such an integral part in our history, particularly as a political tool. "It is refreshing that there is now the space where we can appreciate photographic images beyond the urgency of photojournalism," he said.

As an artist, the space between documentary photography and a more considered artistic avenue of expression is what he is most interested in. In his approach to photography, he realised early in his career that working in Africa as a white person did not afford him fly-on-the-wall status. "It occurred to me that I appeared to be out of place, and I often found myself critically scrutinised by the subject being photographed. I decided to switch to a larger and more cumbersome format for my photography that requires negotiating consent and dialogue with the person being photographed. I prefer to engage directly with the people I photograph and this is one of the most important aspects of what I do," he explained.

He believes that this approach is forthright and creates a more commanding presence of his subjects because they are aware that they are being captured. His photography was showcased during his residency at Fabrica, Benetton's Research and Communications Centre in Italy from 2002 to 2003. He has had solo exhibitions at the Michael Stevenson Contemporary Art Gallery in Cape Town, the Museum of Modern Art (Rome), and Fabrica Features (Lisbon).

Pieter Hugo describes his works as documentary photography and says that he is finding new ways of interpreting the world we live in and its complexities. "My reasons for working in this medium are personal, not political - photography enables me to engage with things that interest me and provides me with a means to explore it. I am concerned with the peripheral in society, particularly in Africa, and I negotiate contexts where the cultural nuances of our time are amplified."

He has received many accolades including, most recently, his work being selected for the touring exhibition, ReGeneration: 50 Photographers of Tomorrow 2005-2025, and winning first prize in the Portraits section of the 2006 World Press Photo competition for Mallam Galadima Ahamadu with Jamis, Nigeria 2005.

Hugo's next task will be using his direct approach to photography to create an exhibition for the 2007 National Arts Festival. "It will be a body of work and a book about a small town in South Africa. I decided to do something close to home for this exhibition." This is short-term; in the long-term he aspires to publishing a book (or two!) and continuing to capture refreshing and challenging images.

The Young Artist Awards were started in 1981 by the National Arts Festival to recognise emerging, relatively young South African artists who have demonstrated exceptional ability in their chosen field. These prestigious awards are presented annually to deserving artists in three to four arts disciplines, affording them national exposure and acclaim. Winning artists, as part of their award, are given the opportunity to perform, direct or exhibit on the National Arts Festival's main programme. Standard Bank took over the sponsorship of the awards in 1984 and has presented Young Artist Awards in all the major arts disciplines over their 23-year sponsorship, as well as posthumous and special recognition awards.




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