On cover of Permanent Error by Pieter Hugo the viewer is greeted by Yakubu Al Hasan. A Medusa-like bale of cables and wires adorns his head while a small rubber tire is slung on his shoulder. This is one of those books that punches you right in the throat before you even open it.
Hugo made the images in 2009 and 2010 in the Agbogbloshie Market in Accra, Ghana. This is one of the places where the first world disposes of their technological trash. The land is dotted with plastics that do not decompose. The workers use empty CRT monitor cases for chairs. They sleep in make shift shelter surrounded by the hell in which they work each day.
The book raises a number of questions in me like: Is technology good? Is the rush to update to the latest and greatest computer the problem? While chewing on that thought, a page is turned and you see a picture of a typewriter. There are a number of images showing a variety of floppy disks, so it is not just the latest technology that is dealt with here.
Reading Jim Puckett's essay A Place Called Away, more thoughts came to me: Can this phone last me a little longer? Maybe I do not need a new laptop. Maybe someone should do something about this? To which Pluckett replies that some people are, there are just not a lot of them in America, other than those who send their old technology to Ghana.
There is a weight to the book. The paper is heavy. The typography reminds me of a newspaper report. The images are well printed. The book is not overly large. It is easy to manage. The size helps in showing the horror these workers experience. My one complaint is with the panoramic images. Bleeding them across two pages is not always ideal. The gate fold triptych is powerful. It is a technique that brings the scale of the place into focus.
Hugo let go of the desaturated look of his earlier work in the hyena men and the Nollywood images. This feels more like reportage, which he does well with. Hugo's directness comes through and he brings a powerful photographic voice to the horrors.
I am left with a number of questions. One that continues to come back to me is: What do all of the cattle eat? What is it that the workers eat since they appear to live here?
Even though this is not a pleasant series of images, I keep going back to it to ponder the questions the book pulled out of me. This is one of those books where I say it needs to be purchased since these pictures are important. Work like this needs to be supported. There are times when the first world needs a punch to the throat.
Tom Leininger is a photographer and educator based in Denton, Texas. He received his MFA in photography from the University of North Texas. Prior to that he was a newspaper photographer in Indiana. His work can be found at http://tomleininger.net.