When looking at Pieter Hugo’s project Permanent Error, for which he was shortlisted for this year’s Deutsch Borse prize, it is as if we have been transported to an apocalyptic future. Fires burn continuously, chucking poisonous smoke into the air, and humans and cattle scratch for a tenuous existence over landscapes consisting of broken and decaying technology.
In actual fact this landscape does exist. It is in Ghana, on the outskirts of a slum called Agbogbloshie, but it is more fittingly named by the locals as Sodom and Gomorrah. It is the site of a dump for discarded technology, most of it shipped over from the Western world. Here the waste is burnt in pits and the valuable metals leftover are collected to be sold.
What Hugo has provided us with is the tail end of our obsession with technology, fuelled by companies who put out sleek, cool adverts demanding that we upgrade to the next best, fastest, more compatible hardware.
In contrast, Hugo’s photographs are a bleak, distressing and fearful landscape in which characters glare back at the viewer through the smoke, almost with pity and accusation. Yet this is done subtly, the portraits don’t shout, but speak to the viewer, making them aware of the small part that they play in all of this – for we know that supply is kept up by demand.
Permanent Error reminds me of a few images from Jim Golberg’s Open See series, which won him the Deutsch Borse prize last year. Could this be a sign of things to come?