‘There was something very strange going on, bordering on sadomasochism’ … the street performer and his hyena. Image Credit: Photograph by Pieter Hugo
I first learned about Nigeria’s “hyena men” in 2005, thanks to a picture that had gone viral. The caption said they were debt collectors in Lagos. I knew I had to find them. The country has a population of 186 million people, though, so the odds were pretty low.
But then in 2017 a journalist friend told me they come from his home town, Kano, in the north. Two weeks later, I was on my way.The hyena men are itinerants: they never spend more than two days anywhere.
I found them in a shanty town near Abuja, the capital. Despite the language barrier we got to know each other pretty quickly. Outside of Lagos and Port Harcourt, I didn’t see a single white person in Nigeria.
So I probably seemed as odd to them as a guy walking a hyena in the street seemed to me.
We smoked some weed to break the ice. It turned out they weren’t debt collectors – they were more like town criers, traditional storytellers who performed in the streets and sold potions after their shows. I
t reminded me of stories I’d read about eastern European circus troupes in the 1930s – except instead of bears, these guys had hyenas, baboons and pythons.
Seeing them perform was unforgettable. It was a huge spectacle. They would beat drums to draw in the crowds, then take the muzzles off the hyenas.
Next they’d put their arms and even their heads between the animals’ jaws. The aim was to convince the audience they had special powers, and that the audience could acquire them too, if they bought their potions.
Image Credit: Photograph by Micky Wiswedel/Red Bull lllume.
Climber Jamie Smith tackles Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.
Micky Wiswedel: My buddy Jimbo had been opening new hard routes in the area and we wanted to try and capture some of the climbs.
With climbing photography it’s not often you can just walk somewhere to get a good angle – most good shots require some form of rigging.
The angle of this image happened by chance. We were setting up for another shot but when I looked back I knew we had to change plans and grab the shot with the sea and horizon in the background, framed by this huge rock roof.
Lighting is also difficult, as climbers prefer to climb in the shade as cooler temperatures provide more friction between skin and rock. This often means overexposed backgrounds and underexposed foregrounds.
The best I could do in this situation was to shoot somewhere in the middle.
The route is one of the hardest on Table Mountain. The last ‘crux’ section is near the top – you have a few pieces of protection below but there’s a final jump, or ‘dyno’ for the last hold. The image captures what happens if you don’t manage to stick that hold!
There was always a chance that Jimbo would fall, so I was ready for it. For the couple of seconds leading up to the big move I was holding my breath and ready to fire.
I could definitely feel the adrenaline pumping! It’s a pretty big and impressive fall, but luckily far from the ground – that doesn’t make it any less terrifying.
We had planned to grab some cool climbing shots, but in the end this image of Jimbo mid-air was the shot we felt captured the intensity of the climb. Jimbo did send the route that day – after a few more falls