In Pieter Hugo’s enigmatic and unnervingly intimate photographs, his subjects stare directly into the lens of the camera. They are caught in in the midst of an apocalyptic and strangely idyllic wasteland—a dump site for technological debris on the outskirts of Ghana. Across miles of electronic waste, the local workers burn the materials—cell phones, broken computers, and other obsolete gadgetries (“donations” from the West)—to extract metals for resale, the result seen in toxic plumes of smoke and the nearly visceral smell of burning plastic.
“In my work I try to find some sort of agency in the pictures,” Hugo has said. “I want my desire to look requited, and the confrontation that I have toward the subject requited in a way. You are looking, but you’re also being looked at, and by being looked at, your implicitness in this dynamic is being acknowledged.”