Pieter Hugo’s fascinating photographs bring Mexican culture to life

Pieter Hugo’s fascinating photographs bring Mexican culture to life

South African photographer Pieter Hugo, known for his candid portraits often depicting people on the periphery of mainstream society, has produced a salient series of work in Mexico. An April visit to Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City was the starting point for Aquí se rompió una taza, part of which is on show at Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvarez Bravo in Oaxaca de Juárez.

Hugo was struck by David Alfaro Siqueiros’s room-spanning mural in the castle: Del Porfirismo a la Revolución. ‘It’s like a photo essay in one huge painting,’ he says, ‘As opposed to the journalistic approach of capturing one moment, muralism takes on multiple facets of history, depicting various sequences and the consequences of events.’

It’s a space Hugo inhabits, too, his work flitting between art, documentary and theatrical presentation. His photograph of garbage collectors, who are part of a street theatre troupe, mimics a protest scene from Siqueiros’ mural, their direct gazes a signature of Hugo’s portraiture.

Known to challenge perceptions through the intimate presentation of his subjects, Hugo wished to capture a different side to Juchitán’s muxe culture (people whose birth sex is male but who identify as female). Having seen images of this third gender predominantly presented as playful and youthful, he sought to create an alternative narrative by placing an older generation before his lens. ‘I create a space for people to present themselves as they want to be seen,’ says the photographer, pointing to the portrait of an elegant elderly muxe adorned in golden jewellery.

An encounter with a man who lives on the nudist beach of Zipolite resulted in a naked portrait on a donkey, while a conversation with a sex worker led to capturing her flaunting bright pink make-up – an image far removed from her previous life as a police officer. ‘Mexicans have a very strong visual sensibility,’ says the artist of his latest subjects. ‘They get it.’ §

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