ROGER BALLEN – IN RETROSPECT
Snap! Space, in collaboration with the Southeast Museum of Photography, presents ‘ROGER BALLEN – IN RETROSPECT’ – a retrospective exhibition which spans over 40 years of image making and leads us through many incarnations of thought and process by one of the most influential and important photographic artists of the 21st century. 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. 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’. The photography, installations and videos of Roger Ballen have been shown in important institutions throughout the world and he is represented in many Museum Collections such as Bibliotheque Nationale, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; Tate Modern, London, UK, Museum Folkswang, Essen, Germany and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA.
For almost two decades American artist-photographer Roger Ballen has been photographing in the South African countryside, searching for aesthetic symbols to convey a sense of the place and the people. Platteland was born of the profound irony that despite the political privilege apartheid had bestowed on whites, in the physical heart of the land there is inescapable testimony to the failure of the regime even to secure the well-being of the privileged minority. Many of those people the photographer encounters feel strangled by poverty and preconception, rejected and downgraded. Above all else, most are severely alienated by the radical changes taking place in the society around them.
Outland is the culmination of almost twenty years work for Ballen and amounts to one of the most extraordinary photographic documents of the late twentieth century. Through the late 1990s and into 2000, Ballen’s work progressed again. Continuing to portray the fringes of South African society, his subjects begin to act. Where previously his pictures, however troubling, fell firmly into the category of documentary photography, these pictures move into the realms of fiction. Ballen’s characters act out dark and discomfiting tableaux, providing images which are exciting and disturbing in equal measure. One is forced to wonder whether they are exploited victims, colluding directly in their own ridicule, or newly empowered and active participants within the drama of their representation.
Award-winning photographer Roger Ballen explores in Shadow Chamber the underbelly or the “shadow chamber” of existence. He takes major leaps forward into a metaphoric dimension with multiple conscious and subconscious meaning. He does this in an, as yet unseen, and entirely unique way. With Shadow Chamber he creates a way of seeing that makes an important and historic contribution to art photography. His photographs are striking, ambiguous images of people, animals and objects posed in mysterious, cell-like rooms that occupy the grey area between fact and fiction, blurring the boundaries between documentary photography and art forms such as painting, theatre and sculpture.
Boarding House is a space of transient residence, of comings and goings, of people sheltered in a place they are using for their immediate survival. Basic and fundamental, the structure is furnished with objects necessary for an elementary existence, decorated with evocative drawings, and littered throughout with animals. Remnants function there as physical symbols of events that have occurred in the space; broken pieces of a functional reality exist as the leftovers of scenarios that have been played out there. The altered sense of place of this temporary abode creates a sense of alienation, which acts as a jumping off point for the imagination to run wild.
Asylum of the Birds showcases his iconic photographs, which were all taken entirely within the confines of a house in a Johannesburg suburb, the location of which remains a tightly guarded secret. The inhabitants of the house, both people and animals, and most notably the ever-present birds, are the cast who perform within a sculptural and decorated theatrical interior that the author creates and orchestrates. The resulting images are compelling and dynamic, existing somewhere between still life and portrait. They are richly layered with graffiti, drawings, animals, and found objects.
Separated into seven chapters or “acts”, The Theatre of Apparitions is a treat of Ballenesque images taking readers on a deep journey into their subconscious. Inspired by the sight of 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 are like prehistoric cave-paintings: the black, dimensionless spaces on the glass are canvases onto which Ballen carves his thoughts and emotions.
Art photography meets popular culture in this hugely successful music video by musicians Die Antwoord and photographer Roger Ballen. With more than 55 million hits and counting since its uploading on YouTube in 2012, “I Fink U Freeky” has brought its director Roger Ballen, and its subject, rap group Die Antwoord, into the zeitgeist of young people around the globe. Shot in black-and-white and featuring imagery, scenes, and subjects from Ballen’s stunning photographic work, the video, with its infectious beat and Die Antwoord’s ingenious blend of hip-hop, rap, and rave, has been a great critical success.