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Roger Ballen
Roger and the Inner Voices, 2015. Portrait by Marguerite Rossouw
Roger Ballen
Roger Ballen

Roger Ballen

Country: United States
Birth: 1950

One of the most influential and important photographic artists of the 21st century, Roger Ballen's photographs span over forty years. His strange and extreme works confront the viewer and challenge them to come with him on a journey into their own minds as he explores the deeper recesses of his own.

Roger Ballen was born in New York in 1950 but for over 30 years he has lived and worked in South Africa. His work as a geologist took him out into the countryside and led him to take up his camera and explore the hidden world of small South African towns. At first he explored the empty streets in the glare of the midday sun but, once he had made the step of knocking on people's doors, he discovered a world inside these houses which was to have a profound effect on his work. These interiors with their distinctive collections of objects and the occupants within these closed worlds took his unique vision on a path from social critique to the creation of metaphors for the inner mind. After 1994 he no longer looked to the countryside for his subject matter finding it closer to home in Johannesburg.

Over the past thirty five years his distinctive style of photography has evolved using a simple square format in stark and beautiful black and white. In the earlier works in the exhibition his connection to the tradition of documentary photography is clear but through the 1990s he developed a style he describes as 'documentary fiction'. After 2000 the people he first discovered and documented living on the margins of South African society increasingly became a cast of actors working with Ballen in the series' Outland (2000, revised in 2015) and Shadow Chamber (2005) collaborating to create powerful psychodramas.

The line between fantasy and reality in his subsequent series' Boarding House (2009) and Asylum of the Birds (2014) became increasingly blurred and in these series he employed drawings, painting, collage and sculptural techniques to create elaborate sets. There was an absence of people altogether, replaced by photographs of individuals now used as props, by doll or dummy parts or where people did appear it was as disembodied hands, feet and mouths poking disturbingly through walls and pieces of rag. The often improvised scenarios were now completed by the unpredictable behaviour of animals whose ambiguous behaviour became crucial to the overall meaning of the photographs. In this phase Ballen invented a new hybrid aesthetic, but one still rooted firmly in black and white photography.

In his artistic practice Ballen has increasingly been won over by the possibilities of integrating photography and drawing. He has expanded his repertoire and extended his visual language. By integrating drawing into his photographic and video works, the artist has not only made a lasting contribution to the field of art, but equally has made a powerful commentary about the human condition and its creative potential.

His contribution has not been limited to stills photography and Ballen has been the creator of a number of acclaimed and exhibited short films that dovetail with his photographic series'. The collaborative film I Fink You Freeky, created for the cult band Die Antwoord in 2012, has garnered over 125-million hits on YouTube. He has taken his work into the realms of sculpture and installation, at Paris' Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (2017), Australia's Sydney College of the Arts (2016) and at the Serlachius Museum in Finland (2015) is to name but a few. The spectacular installation at Les Rencontres d'Arles 2017, "House of the Ballenesque" was voted as one of the best exhibitions for 2017. In 2018 at the Wiesbaden Biennale, Germany, another installation "Roger Ballen's Bazaar/Bizarre" was created in an abandoned shopping centre.

Ballen's series, The Theatre of Apparitions (2016), is inspired by the sight of these hand-drawn carvings on blacked-out windows in an abandoned women's prison. Ballen started to experiment using different spray paints on glass and then 'drawing on' or removing the paint with a sharp object to let natural light through. The results have been likened prehistoric cave-paintings: the black, dimensionless spaces on the glass are canvases onto which Ballen has carved his thoughts and emotions. He also released a related animated film, Theatre of Apparitions, which has been nominated for various awards.

In September 2017 Thames & Hudson published a large volume of the collected photography with extended commentary by Ballen titled Ballenesque Roger Ballen: A Retrospective.
 

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More Great Photographers To Discover

Kamil Vojnar
Czech Republic
1962
Kamil Vojnar was born in the former Czechoslovakia in 1962. He studied at the School of Graphic Arts in Prague and began his career as a Graphic Designer. He left the country illegally (still Communist at the time) and moved to Vienna, and then eventually became a US citizen and finished his studies at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. He continued his career in Graphic Design which later led to illustration and imagery based on photography, working mostly for book and music publishing houses in New York City. At the same time, he continued to make his own imagery. After meeting his partner and having children, going back and forth between France and New York, they finally settled in St. Remy de Provence in South France where Vojnar has concentrated on his own work since 2005. He opened up an Atelier in St. Remy and then one in Paris in 2009, both of which carry his own work.His work consists of images digitally layered from many different photographs and textures. They are mixed-media archival prints on fine art paper or mounted on canvas. Some of his images are layered pictures printed on semitransparent Thai paper. These unique photomontages are then varnished with oil and wax, and on occasion painted with oil paints. Kamil, as a painter, points out, “In a painting, you can paint anything you want. In the photographic [medium], it must, on some level, exist first. That tension between what exists and what is made up is what interests me.” Thus, his images are often subject to very different interpretations (Source: Verve Gallery) About ElsewhereWell, … why … why "e l s e w h e r e"…?Because, … not really here, because not there or … over there, because … somewhere else, … "e l s e w h e r e"!!!In thousand years old small town in south France, I have little studio, tiny Gallery, up on the main street.People from all around the world come to this town. They walk it's ancient streets. Some see my place, some walk in and look around.And they ask … why, … the sky outside is blue, … the buildings ochre yellow, the olive trees pale green, … why are those pictures musty, sepia, dark. Why is their soul heavy? What happened? What has happened to me!And I say … I don't know, … they come to me that way. They are not really from here, they are not so much from there. They arrive from ..."elsewhere". I am just a pair of hands making them happen.I didn't look for them, I didn't choose them. They came to me, … they choose me!Artist? No. … Common' I am no Artist! I just make those little pictures. Just because they happen to me.And because … I cannot do anything else. I cannot do anything else, at least, until every last of them is out, … done.Just a pair of hands I am. Always struggling to let the image out. Always behind in my ability to execute on the paper what pours from ..."elsewhere", via my mind, my heart.It feels like, … really I have no personal connection to those pictures. I am not guilty.Don't ask me what they are, … what they mean. I don't know.Like orphaned kids, I collect them, feed them to grow.They have to be done. They have to get out there.If not me, … then who?Some are easy. Impatiently they bursting out into the openOthers play hide and seek. They leave a hint, they take me all over wrong paths, all around. They let me sweat, they let me freeze. They drag me through dry, dusty deserts, soak me in deepest seas. My shirt is bloody. My face is wet. Sometimes … sometimes I cry. Pure impossibility overwhelms me. Impossibility to make them happen as they appear to me. In their translucent light, through the tears, I see them, … I almost see them.No, I am no Artist. I just … I am just trying to do, … what I … almost … see.Yes, it's true! … I am making one picture over and over again.The same sofa, the same dress, the same image of Jesus on the wall in the background, as I have had throughout my childhood.Wings? … Yes, sometimes, there are wings. But those who carry them, they are no angels.They just want to be free. Pair of wings is like a passport to get away. To get to … elsewhere.E l s e w h e r e, … they say, it's not the destination, it's the journey, that counts.Therefore my little pictures are the humble documentation of that journey.They are the journey!Journey to … e l s e w h e r e!
Marina Lauar
Brazil
1993
Marina Lauar is a Brazilian visual artist. She develops her artwork in Fine Art Photography, where she uses a pictorial language to construct of her narratives. As a plural artist she appropriates elements that expand formal photography and allow the mix of printed photography with other gestures and techniques. She finds in the portrait an appropriate field for her discussions and critical reflection, which she builds through minimalist and potent images. Her research currently circulates between the deconstruction of already rooted stereotypes and her own self-perception. About Plastic Portraits The project was born during my renaissance as an artist. After some time feeling completely blocked, hands, feet, head, and heart tied, I found myself in a huge need to express my concerns through photography. Fine Art Photography is a fertile field that allows the cultivation of reflections and dialogues, so I chose it as language, to be the home of my yearnings. I create portraits aiming to deconstruct beliefs, sometimes using satire, sometimes critical reflections and their depths, sometimes pure intimacy, things that will never be said. The atmosphere is reaffirmed by the way I work with the light. I seek minimalism so that only a key element fulfils its role as a critical factor in the image. My principal goal with this project is to traverse. Conceive feelings, make the feeling palpable. Build next to portrayed the script that will guide us in the production of the pictures, in the choice of the element, so that everything there in that image has great strength and meaning to the portrayed. To emanate with my eyes feelings that overflow in the other.
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