TEL AVIV.- Photographer Roger Ballen was born in New York in 1950, and has lived and worked in Johannesburg, South Africa, since 1982. The current exhibition of Ballens photographs, presents 40 of his photographs taken in that country over the past 30 years.
Ballen's aesthetic language crystallized into a unique, original style in the mid-1980s, at an early stage in his career. Direct, harsh and powerful portraits of marginal characters living in South Africa's rural areas, became the immediate trademark of his work.
Over time, his visual style became more defined, while his message evolved into a more complex and enigmatic statement. Motifs from the homes of the people in the early series (Dorps and Platteland) and backgrounds that supply relevant information about the context, re-occur in exaggerated décor in his later series (ie Shadow Chamber, Boarding House and Asylum). Over time, Roger Ballens images transpose, evolve and regenerate themselves from the mundane to the bizarre. The portrait, which is the central theme of his early photographs of the South African rural countryside, becomes a drawing, a painting, an object or an installation in his later series.
The crucial moment in the photographs from 1995 onwards, characterizes a state between, dreaming and waking, between imagination and reality, between sanity and insanity. Thus, the depicted events portray states of consciousness rather than actual occurrences. A subsequent reading of Ballen's earlier works reveals that even Ballen's initial work had ambigious nuances.
In Shadow Chamber, Boarding House and Asylum, images as a whole, are deconstructed: separated body parts are positioned non-hierarchically alongside animals, dolls and reptiles in wild, hallucinatory compositions against stained backgrounds and primitive wall paintings. In these series, the images are ruled by the paradoxical dynamics of pictorial syntax rather than by the laws of spatial logic. Intersecting planes, subject and background collide and collapse into the space of the photograph in which the square dimensions, though clearly delineating the spatial chaos, are differentiated from the conventional horizontal visual structure and offer a deviation from the familiar cosmic order. Doors and other openings offer no escape to a rational world, but lead further into mysterious rooms and claustrophobic spaces.
Blurring the boundaries between distorted reality and imagination, between humanity and animalism, and between tragedy and comedy, Ballens more recent photographs beautify the abject and elevate the lowly on a poetic level that seems, somewhat ironically, to offer some comfort to the viewer.
Ballen is considered one of the most important contemporary photographers in the world whose images have the potential to transform and instruct on a deep psychological level. He has published eleven books. Solo exhibitions by Ballen are held in many leading museums worldwide, including the Manchester Art Museum, UK; Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome; Musee de l'Elysee, Lausanne; Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janerio; and Bozar, Brussels. His works are held in the collections of, among others, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Johannesburg Art Museum; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and Elton John.
Artist talk with Roger Ballen (in English) on Friday, 9 November 2012, at 12 noon