Photo Days invites Pieter Ugo to present his 1994 series, with images rarely seen in France. 199 is the end of Apartheid in South Africa, with the election of Nelson Mandela. It is also the year of the genocide in Rwanda. Through portraits of children from these two countries, Hugo questions history and his personal history, the relationship between life and death, and the imprint of collective memory in the eyes of children.
“I happened to start this series of images in Rwanda, but I have been thinking about the year 1994 in relation to both that country and South Africa over a period of ten or twenty years. I noticed how children, particularly in South Africa, do not carry the same historical baggage as their parents. I find their engagement with the world to be refreshing in that they are not so burdened by the past, but at the same time one witnesses them growing up with certain ‘liberation narratives’ that are obviously in some ways a fabrication. It’s almost like you know something they don’t about the potential failures or possible shortcomings of these guiding narratives. Most of the photographs in this book were taken in villages throughout Rwanda and South Africa. There is a very thin line between nature being seen as idyllic, while at the same time as a place where terrible things can happen, permeated by genocide – a constantly contested space. Seen as a metaphor, it is as if the further you leave the city and its systems of control, the more primal things become. At times the children appear conservative, existing in an orderly world; at other times there’s something feral about them, as in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies: A place devoid of rules. This is most noticeable in the Rwanda images where clothes donated from Europe, with particular cultural significations, are transposed into a completely other context. Being a parent myself has dramatically brought about a shift as to how I look at children. The challenge is to make unsentimental images. The act of photographing a child is so different – and in many ways much more difficult –than taking a portrait of an adult. The normal power dynamic between photographer and subject is subtly shifted. I searched for children who already seemed to have fully formed personalities. There is an honesty and a forthrightness which cannot otherwise be evoked.”
Pieter Hugo 1994
November 11, 2022 –Décember 11, 2022
12 place du Panthéon – Paris 5e
Priska Pasquer Gallery
50668 Cologne, Germany