Pieter Hugo’s There’s a place in hell for me & my friends is a series of close-up portraits of the artist and his friends, all of whom call South Africa home. Through a digital process of converting colour images to black and white while manipulating the colour channels, Hugo emphasizes the pigment (melanin) in his sitters’ skins so they appear heavily marked by blemishes and sun damage. The resulting portraits are the antithesis of the airbrushed images that determine the canons of beauty in popular culture, and expose the contradictions of racial distinctions based on skin colour.
As the critic Aaron Schuman writes, “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, coloured.”
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