Roger Ballens work can be recognised at a glance. His singular universe, from a documentary style in the early days to more pictorial scenes, navigates between dream and reality. In the course of his career, he has built up a body of work which is amusing, enigmatic and disturbing in equal measure. The Centre for Fine Arts
is devoting an extensive retrospective to this special photographer within the context of the biannual Summer of Photography and the Visionary Africa festival.
Roger Ballen was born in New York in 1950, but has spent his entire professional life in South Africa . He has created a masterly body of photographic work since the early 80s. From the very empathetic and, at the same time, tough photo-journalism in series such as Dorps: Small Towns of South Africa (1986) and Platteland: Images from Rural South Africa (1994), he has evolved towards a unique artistic style that has made a significant contribution to the development of present-day photography. Roger Ballens work is therefore also among the most important photographic collections in the world.
In the Outland (2001) and Shadow Chamber (2005) series, Ballens photography moves away from the reporting style. The texture, composition and montage of both objects and animals become the main subjects of his images, where apparently incompatible objects are combined with each other without the whole losing any of its authenticity. Ballen displays a remarkable talent for revealing non-experienced relationships between objects, people, their shapes and appearances, as well as their metaphysical and emotional properties. The Shadow Chamber series, in particular, shows how space, volume and ambiance are manipulated in order to create a rare and surreal world.
The pictures in the most recent Boarding House series (2009) are situated at the limits of photography they have become almost entirely pictorial or sculptural. The human and animal characters are extras or alien sculptures in the composition; texture, abstraction and compositional force are the new components of these almost archetypical introspections.