I suppose most people think what makes Roger Ballen “cool” is his close association with the South African music group ‘Die Antwoord’ and the video “I Fink U Freeky”. But, the fact is, this black and white maven of the arts was cool way before that. He is truly a South African jewel that represents his new country in the most positive way; He elevates South African art and photography to a level worldwide that makes people take notice.
Not Man Ray
While others like to compare him to the surrealistic bent of Man Ray,….that was then and this is now. I’m afraid I don’t see the commonality in either technique or vision. In fact, I put his work miles above Man Ray. But then, art is like that. Everyone has an opinion.
He combines humanistic interaction with the strangest of props and purposely displayed graffiti. A monotone version of a Keith Haring, his images are both striking and original in their assemblage. His common use of the wire hangars and electrical tape of every day life that’s transported his imaging to new heights in the art world.
South African Immigrant
Roger Ballen is actually American, born in NY in 1950. While doing a book there in the 70’s, he fell in love with the country,…only to return for the next 30 years. As with many artists, he made his living as a geological consultant, but continued to photograph in a country with unlimited possibilities. Ala Ralph Eugene Meatyard.
His photography was at odds with the pretty picture so called social documentary photographers of the time tried to advance. His stark realism exposed the underbelly of a definitively 2 class system. Not just black to white, but white to white. He was determined to expose this inequity in his photographs.
A Humanist with a Camera
His artistic endeavors, combined with his photography, really set him apart foremost as a humanist at heart. This humanity, combined with the bleakness and honesty of large portions of this beautiful country. The urban decay and the absurdity of this self evident truth in the face of a dainty richness all around demanded a naive artfulness for the world to see.
Through all this, he has avoided romantic inclinations. And while he may sometimes miss the mark, Roger Ballen always bounces back to move the viewer with that monochrome humanity. He has many books out. All are 5 star. He likes the square format, and is known to favor a Rolleiflex SL66 …. an esoteric choice for an esoteric artist. Check out his website below for more awesome imaging.
To quote Roger Ballen about film: “I believe that film photography will continue as a form, much in the same way that painted portraits still exist. It’s my belief that using film as a photographic medium will simply become more and more antiquated, peripheral, specialized. That’s not a negative viewpoint. Just to say that should the medium follow the route I’ve described, it will become more valuable than what’s replaced it and give future photographers a niche they can use to express their thoughts and ideas.” We agree.