Wednesday, May 13, 2009
  Roger Ballen photographs as metaphors
Published NZ Herald May 9, 2009
Roger Ballen's image of twins Dresie and Casie was taken in Western Transvaal in 1993. Photo / Supplied

Roger Ballen's photographs journey from the disturbing documentary images of his early series in rural South Africa to the disturbed interiors of his recent compositions, taken around Johannesburg.

It started with a journey, with the young American hitting the hippie highway in 1973 and travelling overland from Cairo to Cape Town.

"I stayed awhile, then went on another journey from Istanbul to New Guinea before going back to America in 1977," says Ballen.

His first book, Boyhood, was drawn from pictures taken during those travels, but his name was made by the work he did after returning to his wife's country of South Africa in the early 1980s, which is included in the retrospective at AUT University's St Paul St Gallery.

Ballen has been seeing the world through a lens since he was a small boy. "My mother started one of the first photography galleries in New York in the 1960s, and I got seriously interested. I knew the leading photographers of the time."

That interest gave him a comprehensive understanding of the craft, but it didn't extend to wanting to become a commercial photographer or a photojournalist - the options for a photographer in the era before photography was considered a proper art.

Instead he secured a PhD in geology and mineral exploration, and continued to take pictures as a hobby. Prospecting in the back blocks of South Africa, Ballen would shelter from the heat of the day by knocking on people's doors.

From those encounters came the images in his first important collection, Dorps, Small Towns of South Africa. The following book, Platteland, extended the ideas and created sufficient impact for Ballen to seek interest outside the country.

"My early pictures were more documentary in terms of the questions I was asking, and the images were more about the culture I was in. For the Dorps project the question was, 'What is the unique aesthetic sensibility of these small towns?'.

"In Platteland, the pictures of poor white South Africans on the margins were a metaphor for emotional states."

By the mid-90s, when he settled in Johannesburg and pursued photography fulltime, the work was becoming increasingly complex and metaphorical. The next collection, Outland, took a more theatrical approach, with its subjects performing in mysterious tableaux.

"They would add something, I would add something. I was asking questions like how would people deal with their ultimate fear, how would they deal with shadows."

That exploration of metaphor continued in later collections like Fact of Fiction, Shadow Chamber, and the most recent, Boarding House, in which fragmentary human or animal subjects compete with drawn and stained walls, worn out furniture, grime and mysterious sculptures.

More Ballen

An online possie for Adam Gifford, a New Zealand journalist specialising in information technology, Maori news and the arts.

My Photo
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
October 2005 / February 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / May 2007 / June 2007 / July 2007 / August 2007 / September 2007 / November 2007 / December 2007 / February 2008 / April 2008 / July 2008 / November 2008 / December 2008 / February 2009 / March 2009 / April 2009 / May 2009 / June 2009 / August 2009 / October 2009 / June 2010 / September 2010 / October 2010 / December 2010 / February 2011 / March 2011 / April 2011 / July 2011 / September 2011 / November 2011 / January 2012 / May 2012 / July 2012 / September 2012 / August 2014 /

Powered by Blogger