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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

Jim Ferguson
United States
1954
Recently I "remerged" back into the fine art photography world, but this is my second round of showing and selling work. Years back I received a BFA from San Francisco Art Institute and MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After getting my BFA, I started contacting galleries. I was successful from the very start with three galleries representing my work and acquisitions by major museums and numerous private collections. In the fall of 2017 I re-emerged into the fine art world full time, introducing my work again to galleries and museums. Since "reemerging" I’ve had a number of successes. I was in an exhibition at Catherine Edelman Gallery and am represented in their Chicago Project. I’ve been included in exhibitions curated by April Watson, Elizabeth Houston, Douglas Beasley and Robert Klein. I’ve also had a One Person exhibition at Workspace Gallery, and was selected for the Top 200 in Critical Mass 2018. Wide Range Statement Traveling through the Southwest for the first time I was photographically hot. My imagery gelled into the beginning of a body of work. This first trip was truly life changing. The Southwest appealed to me so much that I moved to Albuquerque. It served as home base for travels in the West; thus beginning my Wide Range series. I call this series Wide Range because of the open range nature of the American West and the wide variety of subjects I choose to photograph. Man's isolated impacts on the environment stood out more in the broad expanses of the landscape. I sought not to highlight the negative impacts but to utilize the man-made objects to create my images. The juxtaposition of these man-made objects vs. dramatic backgrounds allowed me to visually compact space into layered unity. This series began the visual journey I've traveled with my photography. Unfamiliar Places Statement Unfamiliar Places is a body of autobiographical memories that have been altered by the passage of time rather than by a proactive chemical or digital process. The images were stored on undeveloped film for 20 years, resulting in the degradation of the "latent" image. This work reflect the serendipity that is unique to working with the analogue process and highlights its inherent materiality. The unique process of the degradation of the film over 20 years mirror the historical content of the images. The images are a result of my photographic journey, the degradation of the emulsion in the negatives and the layering of history with the film wrapper's film numbers and dots. They were taken in France Mexico and the U.S. Over the past two decades I continued to photograph, standing guard against the instinct for gratification and instead allowing the pictures to rest peacefully in a dark place. It is now thrilling to finally see that the choice to wait offers its rewards: here are the both subtle diminishments and vital revelations in the aging process. Time has left marks on these images just as the events of a life do.
Mario Testino
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