Pieter Hugo

Nollywood

Everyone knows what Hollywood is and what it stands for: gigantic film studios and elaborate large-screen productions that dominate the programs of many movie theaters around the world. Bollywood, its Indian counterpart, is almost as well known. But who has ever heard of Nollywood?

Nollywood is the third largest film industry in the world. The “N” in its name stands for Nigeria, where it originates. The industry churns out up to 1,500 films every year, generating revenues of around US$320 million. Nollywood films are not only popular in Nigeria: they have become a permanent fixture in everyday culture throughout Africa, ousting American productions. But these films never make it to the big screen. Far removed from the glamour and technical perfection of Hollywood films, they are produced as DVDs on a minimum budget and sold on the street at a low price. Basic, hurriedly written scripts, actors who are often cast on the day of the shooting, improvised sets – in the space of just a few weeks, the typical Nollywood film has been cut, packed and is ready to sell.

The South African photographer Pieter Hugo encountered this film culture on his travels through West Africa. At first he was annoyed by these loud, shrill films that are omnipresent. But gradually, this unique art form consumed by all strata of the population began to fascinate him. These films are made by Africans for Africans. They reflect many of the situations that make up their daily lives – love, betrayal, crime. Unlike Hollywood movies, there’s almost never a happy end. The genre that particularly awakened Hugo’s interest was “juju”, what we know as horror or splatter films, with a touch of voodoo.

Originally, he wanted to take his photos directly on the film sets, but this was not possible for organizational reasons. Together with a local make-up artist, he then decided to recreate typical scenes and settings with local actors. His pictures show werewolves, zombies, devils and murderers in the most ludicrous masks and costumes, gazing at the observer with a fixed and serious stare. In his “Nollywood” series, Pieter Hugo shows his interpretation of a staged reality in which the borders between documentation and fiction are blurred. His reserved, aesthetic view does not question Africa’s peculiar film culture, but rather how it is seen by the western world.

Biographical information

1976

born in Johannesburg, South Africa

1999

started to work as a documentary photographer, assignments from foreign publications

since 2003

works as a personally preoccupied, artistic photographer working on independent photography projects

2006

first prize, Portraits section, World Press Photo 2006,
Getty Images Young Photographer Award

2007

awarded Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art 2007

2008

Discovery Award, Rencontres d'Arles Festival, KLM Paul Huf Award

lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa