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Pieter Hugo's portraits from Ghana's Agbogbloshie dump depict a 21st-century pastoral badlands where children earn a living off our "our culture of obsolescence," as Hugo says below, at great risk from toxic exposure.

"Permanent Error" will be on view at Yossi Milo Gallery, New York, Sept. 8 to Oct. 29, 2011. All images © Pieter Hugo, courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York and Michael Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town.

Pieter Hugo’s work was recently on view at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Prestel published the artist’s books, The Hyena & Other Men and Nollywood, and released Permanent Error in March 2011.

Mr. Hugo received the 2008 Discovery Award at the Rencontres d’Arles Festival and the 2008 KLM Paul Huf Award. His work is held in the permanent collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and FOAM Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam, among others. Pieter Hugo was born in South Africa in 1976 and currently lives and works near Cape Town.


The scale of our electronic waste exported to places like Accra is astonishing. How did Agbogbloshie come to your attention?

Pieter Hugo:

I saw a photo of the dump site in a National Geographic article on recycling.


What was your response when you visited for the first time?


It is a very strange, surreal place, where time seems suspended.


What did the people working there tell you about the pit?


The people who work there are dependent on the income from the pit. They didn’t really have time to sit and discuss the nuances of what they do or their view on it. Many of the children who work there are from extremely impoverished areas in Ghana and are grateful to be earning money, and are supporting extended families with their meagre income.


You tend to work in the same format when making portraits. Did this series influence the way you view the technology you use?


Very much so. I am definitely more conscious about our culture of obsolescence.


Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. His latest book is Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles. More information can be found at rosecransbaldwin.com. More by Rosecrans Baldwin