Permanent Error

Pieter Hugo


South African photographer Pieter Hugo documents an expansive wasteland in Ghana and the inhabitants who live there. Rife with outdated technologies, this destitute slum known as “Sodom and Gomorrah” is also home to a marginalized community. Despite the devastatingly harsh realities depicted in Permanent Error (2010), many of these images are also aesthetically breathtaking classical portraits. Amidst the ravages of an industrialized world–mountains of discarded hard drives, keyboards, and monitors–locals confront the camera, revealing an inner strength and dignity.

The United Nations has stated that Western countries produce around 50 million tons of digital waste annually, and here the shocking consequences are exposed. As an installation situated within the urban surroundings of a parking lot, there is a heightened awareness of consumer culture and how the West has normalized its wasteful behaviours. Much of this debris is shipped over to developing countries, with the false promise that it will improve their economy. Many of the inhabitants in this wasteland survive by burning electronic components to extract copper and other precious metals, left with little choice but to create toxic firepits of melting plastic and black smoke. As a result, the surrounding landscape and rivers are contaminated with lead, cyanide, and mercury.

Marshall McLuhan theorized about the effects of technology and how its pervasiveness leads to new cycles of obsolescence and retrieval. He questioned what happens when a medium is pushed to its extreme. Hugo’s work reveals the dark underside of a culture that values “progress” above all else. This bleak graveyard of outdated electronic artifacts foreshadows an apocalyptic era, while harkening back to romanticized pastoral landscapes. These photographs are a stark reminder of the fragility of existence, not only of people and place, but of information and technology.

Presented in partnership with Pattison Outdoor Advertising and Nikon Canada

Curated by Bonnie Rubenstein