Two Figures, 2000
© Roger Ballen
Silver Gelatin Print
39 x 39 cm
Roger Ballen was born in New York City in 1950. His interest in photography began at the age of thirteen when his mother, Adrienne Ballen, started working for Magnum in 1962 as a picture researcher. She was later to open the first photographic gallery in New York City.
After receiving a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in 1972 and suffering the death of his mother, Ballen began a five-year journey hitchhiking around the world. Along the way, Ballen photographed what would become his first book, 'Boyhood'. He arrived in South Africa in 1974 where he met his future companion and wife and has lived there ever since. Since 1974, Roger has spent most of his time in South Africa photographing the countryside and its inhabitants, searching for aesthetic symbols to convey the sense of the place and people that have inspired him.
Ballen’s South African experience was soon to produce a second book, 'Dorps', in 1986, a Walker Evans-style photographic essay on the Platteland (‘Flatland’) towns. He writes, “My purpose in traveling among the dorps had been primarily to document that society, to record a phenomenon vanishing from the South African scene. But of course I was also orienting myself to this country, making links and finding aspects of myself in these small towns. The trend in my work since then has been away from the documentary, increasingly towards an exploration of my own interiority.”
As Ballen continued his immersion in the visual mythology of the Platteland region in South Africa, he moved from an obsession which formed to an obsession with psychological issues. This became the subject of his third book, 'Platteland: Images from Rural South Africa', published in 1995. The subjects are photographed mostly in their dwellings: mixed-race couples, forgotten civil servants made redundant by affirmative action and political change, independent small-town diamond miners ever hopeful of striking it big, subtle and not-so-subtle statements of inbreeding and loneliness. The subjects are all linked by their poverty and by the time warp they occupy in South African history. In 1997, Photo Poche published a fourth book of Ballen’s images from the Platteland period and this spring (March 2001), Phaidon Press is publishing a volume of Ballen’s collected work from 1981 onwards entitled 'Outland'.
Two of Ballen’s photographs hang in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. They also feature in the permanent collection of the Maison Europeene de la Photographie, Europe’s most prestigious photographic center, as well as in Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum.
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