Pieter Hugo / Solus Vol. I

Concerning Atypical Beauty and Youth

The function of contemporary portraiture as a means of authentic representation has become illusive in a culture largely driven by perfection and homogeneity. The fashion industry's machinations of wardrobe, make-up and hair have long perpetuated unrealistic, stifling and frankly boring beauty standards to adhere to.

Yet these ideals are consistently subverted in Pieter Hugos's work and particularly in his latest portraiture series. Named SOLUS VOL.I, the first seeds of the project were sown at the end of 2017 whilst he was working on a fashion story in New York. The editorial was scouted by Rachel Chandler and Walter Pearce of Midland – a casting and talent agency advocating for expanded concepts of beauty that don't conform to the aesthetic norms of the established fashion world.

At Midland's New York office Pieter was struck by the simple, straightforward portraits of the peculiar street-cast models pinned on the agency's wall. Finding the raw and unfiltered portraits so much more arresting than the images he was making on commission, Pieter asked Rachel and Walter if they could introduce their models in London, Paris, New York, Cape Town and Johannesburg to his new personal project. Pieter's brief to the models was, “Come in your own clothes with as little branding as possible, monochrome and block colours preferable.” As for what pose they should assume for the camera, “Simply present yourself and look me in the eyes.”

SOLUS VOL.I is composed of a set of simple head and shoulders portraits (and some full length nudes) referencing the original casting photos that Pieter was so enthralled by in 2017. At first take you could assume that the series is a strictly forensic typology of 'atypical' beauty and youth, with the usual push-pull power dynamics of photographers and models at play. Transcending this assumption however, is the substantial intensity held in the gaze of each model. They are being looked at but are equally looking back with great confidence and without embarrassment, wearing their uniqueness with agency.

A thread connecting Pieter's work is that is all about the notion of being an outsider. The success of these images lies in the idea that Pieter feels he has always inhabited that space himself, embracing that awareness as a way to engage with the people he photographs. Relating to their apparent uniqueness and recalling the sense of not-belonging that is part of the intense experience of youth, the resulting photographs embrace vulnerability and frailty as much as they do the agency and idealism of their subjects.

Images by Pieter Hugo
Casting by Midland
SOLUS VOL.I published by Editorial RM