Issue 7 Summer 2005
(Interview between Roger Ballen and
Roger Ballen first gained widespread attention with the release of his third book, Platteland, Images from Rural South Africa (1994). Since that time Ballen has expanded his vision and reputation by building outward from documentary portraiture into a highly complex, personal style, taking his photography into a fascinating, cryptic, vision of the human psyche. Originally from New York, Ballen has been living in South Africa for 30 years. We recently spoke with him about his current work and the path his art has taken over the last 10 years.
Heather Snider: You have a new book, Shadow Chamber (Phaidon), and two exhibitions opening this autumn. How would you describe your latest work?
Roger Ballen: In a way it is about a strange, ambiguous, dark, and comic place. It is a space that we might recognize; yet we are not quite clear where it is. It is not necessarily a place that you would want to visit or spend a Sunday afternoon. It has elements that are both disturbing and humorous.
HS: Have all of your books been about a place?
RB: My first published project was Boyhood in 1978. Boyhood was about my childhood and was not about a place; in fact I traveled around quite a bit for that series. The first South African project I published was Dorps, Small Towns of South Africa (1985), which I still believe is the most important book I’ve done. The third book, Platteland, deals with an archetypal group of people who express a sensibility of alienation, fear, and marginalization. After Platteland I started to make statements that went beyond the social dynamics of a particular place. My last book, Outland, was more aesthetic and psychological, somewhere between fact and fiction.
HS: What do you think brought about these changes?
RB: It is difficult to say, and it wasn’t that I woke up one day and began seeing things differently. There were many little steps along the way. It’s like ageing, every day you get a little older and I am older now.
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