Man's relationship with nature has always been a complicated one, but that isn't to say that men haven't formed meaningful relationships with Earth's other creatures. From Yann Arthus-Bertrand's majestic portraits of farm animals to Joel Sartore's portraits of endangered species to Amelia's world of wonderful animals, there have been numerous documented occasions of man and animals co-existing. It's a slightly more complicated story with man's other best friends as illustrated in Pieter Hugo's "Hyenas & Other Men".
Pieter Hugo is a portrait photographer who has had his works exhibited numerous times and in numerous places. His focus varies from time to time, from the remaining signs of the 1994 Rwanda genocide to the fascinating world of Nollywood to the discarded remnants of obsolete technology in Ghana, all of which concern Africa.
Unlike other portrait photographers however, Hugo takes on a more natural approach when creating his photographs. He seldom uses artificial lights, preferring instead to capture his subjects in their natural setting. This photo-journalistic approach gives viewers a more sincere look at his subjects without having to distract from the photographs themselves.
Like many other photographers featured on this blog, Hugo became more famous because of his photographs that circulated the Internet a few years ago. They showed men on the streets of small city, in the company of such animals as hyenas, hunting dogs, snakes and baboons. Their authoritative and ostentatious poses also helped evoke an air of wonder about them. Because some of these images were circulated without any context, they became even more amazing in the eyes of the ordinary Internet surfer.
The images, some of which you see here, come from his series, "The Hyena & Other Men" which is exactly what is sounds like. It concerns his 2005 encounter with the "Gadawan Kura" or Hyena Handlers in Nigeria and the fascinating rumors and stories about this peculiar group and their animal wards.
Hugo's brief visit with these men evoked many more questions regarding their way of life, with the juxtaposing of wild animals in urban settings and urban men behaving in wild ways. It also raised concerns about the health and well-being of the wild animals, the economy of the handlers' profession, and the general safety of the public. Hugo takes in stories from all sides, and his account, which you can read here, provides a multi-faceted view of an already interesting picture.
Hugo visited the family again in 2007, taking more intimate photos of the handlers. Just as before, they were steeped in the traditions of their families, continuing their way of life as animal handlers and herbalists. The photographs might seem interesting, cruel or just plain unusual, but this is the life of the Hyena Men of Nigeria.
More of Pieter Hugo's The Hyena and Other Men can be found on his website. Man's other best friends can also be found in a copy of his book, The Hyena & Other Men. You might also want to check out Permanent Error and Pieter Hugo: Selected Works.