Roger Ballen (b. 1950, New York) is an internationally renowned photographer living and working in Johannesburg. He started his career in the 1970s after moving to South Africa from the United States. Before his arrival to South Africa, and parallel to obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Ph.D in Mineral Economics from the University of California, Ballen spent five years globetrotting. He met his wife on his first visit to South Africa, returning to Chicago where he used the photographic material from his journey as the subject matter for his first series of photographs titled Boyhood, also published as the artists first book in 1979.
After completing his studies he returned to South Africa to work as a geologist. His work allowed him to travel South Africa extensively, learning about its socio-political eccentricities under Apartheid, and the curious existence of certain marginalized communities in rural areas. Arguably, Ballen’s early documentations of South Africa gave rise to his most prominent series of photographs, comprised of images that he took of backwater hamlets, ‘dorps’ as they are called in Afrikaans. This series culminated in
a publication called Dorps in 1986; now highly collectable and recently re-printed in its second edition. Dorps displays Ballen’s fascination with architecture and interior spaces, communicating the ideological hold that was ingrained in every facet of South African society during Apartheid.
works, by the mid 90s Balllen’s attention moved towards a merger of architectonic narratives and physiognomic social studies, with often disturbing characters and piercingly discursive props. The most significant example of Ballen’s hybrid-brand of documentary and posed photography can be seen in his publication titled Outland (2001), followed by the aptly titled Circa 1980, Ballen’s documentation Fact or Fiction (2003), culminating of the local archi-political vernacular in his famous Shadow Chamber connected to the Apartheid series (2005). Outland and Shadow regime began to evolve, finding a Chamber went on to worldwide natural progression towards the commercial success, both published documentation of local individuals by Phaidon publishing. A key and inhabitants native to the rural stylistic trait in all Ballen’s work villages that he had visited on from this period is that his images his travels. Ballen revisited the are simultaneously painterly perspectives that he used in Dorps, (expressive) and sculptural focusing primarilly on the people (gestural) in a manner that has not in these rural towns, which he been associated with photography later published and titled Platteland: in the past. Images from Rural South Africa (1994). This evolution towards the Ballen’s most recent series, titled precarious subtleties, mannerisms, Boarding House (2009), revisits gestures, and behaviors of many elements of both previous individuals would prove to be a Phaidon publications, interrogating precursor to his more recent, the formal relations of power popular work. between people, environments, and objects. Also published by Although there are hints of staged Phaidon, Boarding House evolves subject matter and more cerebral upon Ballen’s rich textural, theatrical elements in his earlier textual, and pictorial oeuvre. A
A catalogue detailing the works and artists included in the third iJusi portfolio, curated by Pieter Hugo.