Pieter Hugo shot the series ‘The Hyena & Other Men’ in Nigeria. Pieter was captivated by the first pictures of the ‘hyena men’ that he came across randomly. He went to live with them on the periphery of Abuja in a shantytown – a group of men, a little girl, three hyenas, four monkeys and a few rock pythons.

Nigerian newspapers told him that these men were bank robbers, bodyguards, drug dealers, debt collectors. Myths surrounded them. It turned out that they were a group of itinerant minstrels, performers who used the animals to entertain crowds and sell traditional medicines. Pieter realised that what he found fascinating was the hybridisation of the urban and the wild, and the paradoxical relationship that the handlers have with their animals – sometimes doting and affectionate, sometimes brutal and cruel. When looking back at the notebooks he had kept while with them, the words ‘dominance’, ‘codependence’ and ‘submission’ kept appearing. These pictures depict much more than an exotic group of travelling performers in West Africa. The motifs that linger are the fraught relationships we have with ourselves, with animals and with nature. Read more of Pieter’s fascinating journey here.

All images © Pieter Hugo

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