Roger Ballen

Roger Ballen was born in New York, USA in 1950. His father was a lawyer, and his mother Adrienne Ballen collaborated with the Magnum agency in 1963-68, and later opened her own photography gallery in New York. It is known that the Roger's grandparents were originally from Russia. After graduating from high school, Ballen studied psychology.
"Photography was my hobby until I was fifty"
Roger Ballen
In 1973, Roger's mother dies. Immediately after that, he leaves New York and goes to travel the world. He was 23 years old. After spending a year and a half in South Africa, he returned to the United States in 1977. Roger finished his first photography book "Boyhood", which contains images of boys from different countries. As Ballen himself says, this book was dedicated to his own childhood.

In 1981, he received his doctorate in geology and returned to South Africa, where he worked as a geologist for the next 30 years. His professional activity was searching for minerals, gold and platinum. In that search of ore deposits, the Ballen traveled more than 100,000 kilometers! Thanks to his work, he was able to see the life of Africa from the inside.

Ballen's second album "Dorps: Small Towns of South Africa" (1986) includes photos taken by the photographer during his travels in small towns and villages of South Africa. The album is dedicated to the "Old Africa" that was disappearing in front of our eyes, giving way to the dynamically developing scenery of the new South Africa. Here it is still difficult to talk about the crazy, gloomy "phantasmagoria" typical of Ballen style. These photos mostly depict ordinary people whom the photographer met during the numerous travels and their everyday life.
Ballen's next album "Platteland" was published in 1994. It is also devoted to the provincial life of South Africa and in many aspects continues the ideas of the previous album.
In 2001, he released the album "Outland", which in some way finishing a certain period in the photographer's work. At that time, the Ballen was perceived as an American photographer in South Africa. His gaze was the gaze of an outsider.
In "Outland" some of the photos can already be classified as staged. In the next album "Shadow Chamber" (2005), Ballen is already beginning to create those "crazy" images that brought him fame and are associated with his name.
The works from "Shadow Chamber" are often a cross between artistic and documentary photos. People, animals and various objects stand apart here. They seem to exist within the same photo, but at the same time they do not outwardly contact each other in any way. Here the viewer already feels something inexplicably creepy and surreal in what appears in front of him.

Later the style of the Ballen went beyond the usual framework and it became impossible to attribute it to any particular style. The photographer himself calls his genre as "documentary fiction". So, people, animals and familiar objects look very unusual in Ballen's black-and-white photos – someone is hiding under a T-shirt, other is crouching behind a sofa and someone is showing off their dirty heels. It is sometimes quite difficult to understand the ornate thought of a photographer.
In 2006, Yolandi Visser contacted Roger Ballen with an offer of cooperation. A little later, she and a friend created the band "Die Antwoord". Under the influence of the photographer's work, the special aesthetics of this iconic South African group was formed.

Ballen in 2011 shot a video for their song "I Fink U Freeky", which won a number of European music and art awards. The photos, which were often taken during the filming of the video, were included in Ballen's album with the same name "I Fink U Freeky" (2013).
There are quite a lot of fans of Roger Ballen's art, the disputes around his art have already subsided – those who do not accept his work have given way to those who sympathise to such art. His works have been evaluated by many very prestigious awards – 'Citigroup Prize', 'Sani Festival, Best Solo Exhibition', 'Photographer of the Year, 'Rencontres d'Arles', 'Art Directors Club Award Photography', 'Special mention: UNICEF Photo of the Year' and others. Ballen's photos are in many museums around the world.
At the AKAA exhibition in Paris, we managed to interview a famous photographer. He shared his thoughts about life, about his formation as a photographer and gave advices to emerging photographers.
— Roger, when you already have found your style did you feel that art galleries not accepting your work? Simply because your photographs were very different from what was being sold in galleries at that time.
— No, I was engaged in photography as a kind of passion in my life. I've never done this for galleries. My photo is my diary. It's like I've been writing a diary all these 50 years. Therefore, I have never thought about how to satisfy the public's requests and have never followed what is happening in the art sphere. Therefore, I have never had such a problem as entering art galleries. My primary goal was not how to get recognition from certain people, galleries or anyone else, but how to take good photos.
— That is, not how to become famous..
— Well, if it gonna happen, it will happen.. It's like saying: "I'm going to win the lottery tomorrow." But you can't predict that. You can't just say, "I'm going to win, I'm going to succeed." This may or may not happen. Not everything depends on you. You are not the Lord God!
— If you had not succeeded, would it have upset you in any way?
— In this case, I would just continue doing what I was already doing. I would have continued to shoot..
— Now many photographers are obsessed with the idea of becoming famous. Despite the huge competition. And when you just graduated from photo school, invested money in it, you try to find your style, but at the same time you can't earn a living from photography, many young photographers get despair. Their hopes were not fulfilled.
— The problem is that it's getting harder and harder in this field as millions of photos are taken every day. It's getting harder and harder to find the parameters by which to define your work from what others are shooting. It's a very complicated business! I would give you this example. At 20 years old there are 100 students in photography school, at 25 years old 40 people will leave this business, at 30 years old let's say 20 will have left, at 40 years old two more of the most resistant will have left. Because you just can not survive in art business! As an art photographer! It's very, very hard to sell anything in photography. And the criteria of what people buy, what the art market needs… you just can't measure or define them. So I would say that the idea of becoming successful or famous in this field is not a good idea...
Text Anna Laza
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