Permanent Error — Pieter Hugo
Book Review by Mick Gidley
Published by: Prestel
The opening page of writing by Federica Angelucci – more reverie than analysis – evokes both the pictures to come and the place depicted: Agbogloshie, an area of Ghana that receives electronic detritus from the western world. The photographs themselves document the processes of such modern subsistence hunter gathering: fire, breaking, sifting, bagging. The place – for which its denizens say ‘there is no name’ – is toxic, polluting the air and water for miles around. Despite this poisoning, animals graze and, of course, human beings labour here.
In strong portraits, less confrontational than his previous work, Hugo presents the workers – who mostly toil alone, for this is a competitive market – from a respectful distance: he is not after empathy, but understanding of Agbogloshie. Such understanding is greatly aided by Jim Puckett’s essay on why and how such a terrible place is possible. He details the inbuilt obsolescence of electronic equipment, and how the first world’s commitment to ‘recycling’ really just means dumping stuff – some of it actually tagged by environmental protection agencies – in the third world. The landscapes – all scenes of devastation – are not as visually shocking as the after-effects of genocide that Hugo caught in Rwanda 2004. But they are just as disturbing.