After developing an idiosyncratic style which is referred to as “Ballenesque”, Roger Ballen became one of the most prominent photographers of his generation. He achieved international recognition through his unique and powerful use of drawing, painting, and collage alongside various sculptural techniques in elaborate installations, inventing a new, hybrid aesthetics, firmly rooted in the art of photography.
Roger Ballen reigns over the black-and-white world of the human psyche. Disturbing, provocative and enigmatic, the work of this American-born South African photographer, a geologist by training, expresses the sense of confusion of a man confronted by the nonsensical nature both of his life and of the world in general. Ballen’s work has been the subject of exhibitions at prestigious institutions for more than thirty-five years now.
One of the most influential and important photographic artists of the 21st century, Roger Ballen’s photographs span over forty years. His strange and extreme works confront the viewer and challenge them to come with him on a journey into their own minds as he explores the deeper recesses of his own.
Over the past forty years his distinctive style of photography has evolved using a simple square format in stark and beautiful black and white. In the earlier works in the exhibition his connection to the tradition of documentary photography is clear but through the 1990s he developed a style he describes as ‘documentary fiction’.
After 2000 it became clear in his work that the line between fantasy and reality became increasingly blurred and he employed drawings, painting, collage and sculptural techniques to create elaborate sets. There was an absence of people altogether, replaced by photographs of individuals now used as props, by doll or dummy parts or, where people did appear it was as disembodied hands, feet and mouths poking disturbingly through walls and pieces of rag. The often-improvised scenarios were now completed by the unpredictable behaviour of animals whose ambiguous behaviour became crucial to the overall meaning of the photographs.
In his artistic practice Ballen has increasingly been won over by the possibilities of integrating photography and drawing. He has expanded his repertoire and extended his visual language. By integrating drawing into his photographic and video works, the artist has not only made a lasting contribution to the field of art, but equally has made a powerful commentary about the human condition and its creative potential.
Roger Ballen has published over 25 books internationally. His works are in more that 50 of the most important international museum collections. During the fall of 2022, Thames and Hudson released a second volume of Ballenesque Roger Ballen: A Retrospective in paperback.
Roger Ballen is one of the artists currently representing South Africa at the 2022 Venice Biennale in Italy.