Captured: A walk through Roger Ballen’s career

THE MANY ELEMENTS OF BALLENESQUE IN DEATHBED (2010). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

THE MANY ELEMENTS OF BALLENESQUE IN DEATHBED (2010). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

 
 

TAKE A VISUAL JOURNEY THROUGH ROGER BALLEN’S BIOGRAPHY AND EVOLUTION OF STYLE.

A boy from Westchester, New York, turned wandering geologist, turned photographer of social outcasts — Roger Ballen's biography is as fantastic as the portraits he's captured over the past five decades.

 
 
ROLLY POLLY (1972, USA). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

ROLLY POLLY (1972, USA). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

In 1968, Ballen's parents gifted their recent high-school grad a Nikon FTn camera, which he used to document his surroundings in New York, and then later to capture America's burgeoning counterculture and protest movements in the 1970s.

Even early on, Ballen's photographs showcased what would become his trademark black-and-white film and focus on documentary.

JOHAN AND BERTIE, BROTHERS (1987, WESTERN TRANSVAAL). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

JOHAN AND BERTIE, BROTHERS (1987, WESTERN TRANSVAAL). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

DRESIE AND CASIE, TWINS (1993, WESTERN TRANSVAAL). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

DRESIE AND CASIE, TWINS (1993, WESTERN TRANSVAAL). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

Ballen hit his stride in the 1980s and 1990s while working as a geologist in Africa. While searching for mineral deposits, he came across closed-off communities of white Afrikaners in rural South Africa who took racial purity during apartheid to new extremes.

His provocative depictions of citizens in South Africa's "dorps" and their dwellings were seen as a disturbing, yet intimate social critique.

PUPPIES IN FISHTANKS (2000). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

PUPPIES IN FISHTANKS (2000). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

CUT LOOSE (2005). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

CUT LOOSE (2005). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

BOARDING HOUSE (2008). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

BOARDING HOUSE (2008). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

Throughout the late 1990s and into the 2000s, Ballen honed a style known as "documentary fiction," in which those he'd photographed on the margins of South African society became his subjects in staged studio shoots outside of Johannesburg.

The result were dark, psychological images that played with onlookers' conceptions of reality.

DEATHBED (2010). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

DEATHBED (2010). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

RITUAL (2011). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

RITUAL (2011). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

BATH SCENE (2012). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

BATH SCENE (2012). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

TAKE OFF (2012). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

TAKE OFF (2012). CREDIT: ROGER BALLEN

Over the past decade, Ballen has incorporated twisted sculptures, collage, paintings, mannequins and live animals into his shoots. He also collaborated in haunting multimedia projects with unexpected partners like freak-rap duo Die Antwoord.

At times improvised, at times staged, and sometimes not featuring humans at all, the current era of Ballen's work combines all aspects of his repertoire for pointed takes on the human condition, he writes in a retrospective of his work book, titled Ballenesque.

"A central challenge in my career has been to locate the animal in the human being and the human being in the animal," he says.


Watch LURE’s exclusive interview with Roger Ballen in his private studio. He describes Jean Dubuffet’s Desnudus, a painting which greatly inspired him, through his own eyes:

 
 
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