Pieter Hugo, a South African photographer, plays with color channel manipulation to create portraits that highlight the impurities on his subject’s skin to make a statement about race, the colonial experiment in South Africa, and contemporary ideas of beauty.
There’s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends entails portraits of the artist’s friends- all whom call South Africa their home. Through the manipulation of color, Hugo emphasizes the sitter’s blemishes and sun damage making them look darker than they would normally appear without the editing process.
In these portraits one sees how the sitters’ environment, a place where there is incredibly harsh sunlight, has started to ‘corrode’ our epidermis. This speaks to me about the South African colonial experiment – all these people from all over the world, thrown together within the confines of a nation by the forces of history. The damage left by the sun and the environment becomes allegorical of the burden of South Africa’s tempestuous and fraught past. History leaves its marks on us. It eats away at us. We cannot escape its heavy weight.
Besides the political allegories found in the work, Hugo is also interested in highlighting the errors of racial distinction by revealing that beneath it all, beneath our skin, we all look the same. As the critic Aaron Schuman writes about Hugo’s work, “although at first glance we may look ‘black’ or ‘white’, the components that remain ‘active’ beneath the surface consist of a much broader spectrum. What superficially appears to divide us is in fact something that we all share, and like these photographs, we are not merely black and white – we are red, yellow, brown, and so on; we are all, in fact, colored.” (Images via Stevenson)