The Journey

Pieter Hugo

The Journey


I am 40 000 feet above the Atlantic ocean - mid-air, between Johannesburg and Atlanta. It is a 16-hour flight.

I cannot sleep. It seems as if everybody else in economy class is in some deep, troubled somnambulist state. Most have masks over their eyes and are shielded from any luminous intrusion.

I go for a walk to stretch my legs. Nine hours of flying left. I have almost reached the halfway mark of my journey. Will the second half go faster? Unlikely.

I am bored. I take my pocket camera with me. There is an infrared function on the camera. I make a few portraits of some of the sleeping passengers. Because the camera is photographing the infrared spectrum, no flash is needed. The subjects don't know I am photographing them.

I go back to my seat and review the pictures. They remind me of the images that came from Iraq during the US invasion. They remind me of what soldiers see through their night vision goggles. It occurs to me that the pictures of the first invasion of the Iraq War changed the way we see the world. Previously I associated infrared photography with wildlife pictures, leopards caught feeding at night. Now I associate them with conflict. I start pondering the strange relationship photography has with surveillance and the military industrial complex.

What time is it? Is it South African time? Is it US time? On the aerial map on my in-flight entertainment system there seems to be no land beneath us. No islands. No human presence. Who governs this space between where a journey begins and ends, this limbo between departing and arriving?

I think of Walker Evans' subway portraits and it occurs to me that the world is a very different place now to when he made those pictures. Our notion of public and private has drastically shifted. I wonder if anyone accused him of voyeurism in 1938. I wonder how the people I photograph will feel about these pictures. In this age we demand that celebrity be placed within the public gaze but have a conflicting ethos for our own representations.

I once read that a Londoner was caught on CCTV an average of 300 times a day. We are constantly being photographed without being aware of it.

I look at my watch. Only eight hours and 17 minutes left till Atlanta.

Pieter Hugo

Published by the artist | 2015
Newspaper format, 60 pages | Price: Free

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