Permanent Error – A Distraction by Pieter Hugo

Photo by Pieter Hugo

I slowly cranked the handle on the end of the bookcase, sliding the high-density shelving over, clicky-clicky-clicky-click. The books I wanted were way in the back and I had about eight bookcases to move, large wedges of books moving slowly across the floor in the basement of the main library here at Berkeley. It’s finals week, so I took extra care that no students were hiding or sleeping between the stacks. When I got to the book I was looking for, I immediately took all the books to either side, and a few miscellaneous titles that caught my eye. I can’t really tell if it is a good or bad habit–you understand the range of literature on the subject that you are interested in, but you pick up a lot of random and possibly distracting books as well.

I managed to find an empty end of a long desk, and put my huge stack of books next to me. It is a pleasure to be back in a library where I can work this way again, weeding through large stacks of books, gleaning references, cross checking on worldcat, finding all the journal articles that cite the books, and so forth. I assembled the books on digital photography to review, noting a few new additions–working on digital media is always a losing battle, as it’s a field that is in flux and constantly growing. One of the additions was a medium-sized orange-red volume, pleasingly bound, and heavy with photography–Contemporary Photography from the Middle East and Africa. A distraction, surely, but…why not?

I paged through large, lush panels of photographs, discovering a few new names, modes, inspiration, but then I came across one of those arresting photographs that I will never be able to forget:

Jatto with Mainasara, from Pieter Hugo’s ‘Gadawan Kura – The Hyena Men Series II’

Sadly the version on the screen can’t do this photo justice, but the active pose of Jatto, the hyena, the photographer’s framing–spectacular. So I went looking for more Pietro Hugo:

Of course! He directed “Control” by Spoek Mathambo, the amazing darkwave South African track that was going around last year.

Finally, I went to Pieter Hugo’s webpage to see what else he has worked on. I immediately found more of his Hyena series, then clicked on Permanent Error, his latest work.

Photo by Pieter Hugo

Hugo has been documenting an obsolete technology dump in Ghana. From the artist’s website:

Notions of time and progress are collapsed in these photographs. There are elements in the images that fast-forward us to an apocalyptic end of the world as we know it, yet the alchemy on this site and the strolling cows recall a pastoral existence that rewinds our minds to a medieval setting. The cycles of history and the lifespan of our technology are both clearly apparent in this cemetery of artifacts from the industrialised world. We are also reminded of the fragility of the information and stories that were stored in the computers which are now just black smoke and melted plastic.

Photo by Pieter Hugo.

Author: colleenmorgan

Dr. Colleen Morgan (ORCID 0000-0001-6907-5535) is the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology and Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. She conducts research on digital media and archaeology, with a special focus on embodiment, avatars, genetics and bioarchaeology. She is interested in building archaeological narratives with emerging technology, including photography, video, mobile and locative devices. Through archaeological making she explores past lifeways and our current understanding of heritage, especially regarding issues of authority, authenticity, and identity.

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