A friend recently intoduced me to the work of South African photographer Pieter Hugo, and after a few hours of poking around his site, I am a fan. I found the series The Hyena & Other Men, which the image above comes from, particularly arresting. Its subjects are wild animals--the hyenas of the title as well as baboons--and their handlers, who are, in Hugo's words,
...a group of itinerant minstrels, performers who used the animals to entertain crowds and sell traditional medicines. The animal handlers were all related to each other and were practising a tradition passed down from generation to generation.
It's worth a look, and be sure to read Hugo's explanation while you're there--tales of little girls riding hyenas like small ponies don't come along everyday. As amazing as the hyena images are, I somehow found the baboons, many dressed up in children's clothes or tracksuits, almost more remarkable. The hyenas may be marginally domesticated, but they're still menacing, as evidenced by their being aggressively muzzled and led at the end of thick chains. But the baboons, like the one above, dressed up and posed in casual familiarity with his handler, his hand draped across the handler's thigh, seem almost more like friends than pets. Which is, of course, reading too much into a handful of photos, but that's the beauty of Hugo's work: it invites you to try to imagine the reality of unimaginable lives.