The anonymous commentator asks whether Hugo had seen this image (and presumably the others) before he had taken his own photographs. I would like to think that he had, as I believe he built on the potential that this photograph promised. I also have an inkling that Ouedraogo wasn’t the first person to photograph this site and the extraordinary phenomenon that exists there: it is such an evocative location that it is easy to imagine that photographers make a pilgrimage to it.
The post of my review of Hugo’s exhibition attracted a number of comments by people who felt compelled to demonstrate his ‘unoriginality’ by listing a number of potential predecessors (who were all deemed more superior). I found this particularly interesting but also a futile activity as every artist has a slew of precursors - even those rare individuals deemed to have set art on a completely new course. I am not defending Hugo’s work – but the principles at stake here. I suppose because photography and its potential within the art realm is only just being explored in this country, there is this expectation of the new – that each photographer/artist is compelled to employ it in a distinctive and original way (albeit that the evolution of photography has already played out elsewhere in the world).
This is a particularly difficult objective for those who straddle the social documentary genre, such as Hugo, as off-beat or shocking social phenomenon attract a particular brand of photographer like flies. When I was a judge for the Bonani Africa Photographic competition last year this actuality came sharply into focus. Of course, there is a distinction between subject-matter and its treatment thereof. In light of this I would argue that Hugo’s series in Ghana is completely different to Ouedraogo’s – even the portrait with the smoke. Hugo is more concerned with the subjects (and portraiture) who inhabit this post-apocalyptic territory, whereas Ouedraogo seems to be giving a broader perspective, encompassing different aspects of this phenomenon and its impact on the landscape: such as the photograph of a bridge over a river of electronic waste.
Because this site evokes quite an obvious discourse centred on unequal power relations between the West and Africa, I suppose the question should be: are Hugo and Ouedraogo saying the same thing? What do you think?
BTW: Just one last little, ironic point: Ouedraogo is so averse to his images being copied in any way that I had to call in an IT expert to help link the above image from his website (he has code in place to ensure that you can’t even do a screengrab) onto this page. I suppose he might be outraged to see Hugo’s series.