Have you ever wondered what happens to your old computers, laptops, Blackberries, and iPhones after you've finished with them and moved on to the latest model? Photographer Pieter Hugo's Permanent Error, currently on view at Yossi Milo, sheds a bleak light on the afterlife of our electronics. Documenting Agbogbloshie, a technological wasteland in Accra, Ghana, Hugo introduces us to the locals who root through the discarded electronics and "burn down the components to extract bits of copper, brass, aluminum, and zinc for resale," (from the show's press release). Tons of outdated "e-waste" from the West is donated to Ghana "to bridge the digital divide" and provide "technology to developing countries." Instead, the electronics are destroyed and stripped for their valuable parts. The burned electronics are "transformed into noxious trash" that contaminates the land, air, and water surrounding the dump site, creating health hazards for those searching for parts as well as those living nearby.
The workers predominantly consist of young men, sent to work the electronic graveyard by their impoverished families. Hugo's moving portraits document his subjects' despondent expressions against clouds of dark, toxic smoke, grey skies, and barren land -- a surreal, disturbing, purgatory-like backdrop. Hugo's powerful and poignant images show the workers' desperation and determination -- in a land where purchasing the new iPhone 4S is not the main priority.