Roger Ballen (1950), was born in New York City and has lived and worked in Johannesburg, South Africa, for 30 years. His interest in photography dates to when his mother worked as a photo editor with Magnum Photos in New York, and teenager Ballen befriended the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, and Elliott Erwitt.
For many years Ballen worked as a geologist while documenting the small villages of rural South Africa and their isolated inhabitants. Over the past few years Ballen has had well over 100 exhibitions worldwide, including solo shows at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, New York’s Gagosian Gallery, and Toronto’s Clint Roenisch Gallery. Ballens work is included in some 30 different museum collections.
Boarding House shows an imaginary space of transient residence, of coming and goings, of people sheltering in a strange place they are using for their immediate survival, furnished with objects that are necessarily for an elementary existence as well as mysterious items whose significance is impossible to discern. In the theme of his other photography projects, Boarding House emphasizes the absence of human presence and shows obscured bodies, animals and hand-drawn faces whose minimal identifying characteristics initiate an immediate, visceral response. “It is difficult to explain this place,” Ballen said, “except that I think it exists in some way or another in most people’s mind.”
In reviewing Ballen’s work , American Photo noted his “rich, penetrating vision” and that he has “developed a style of image-making that is firmly rooted in the documentary tradition of the great mid-century storytellers.” Art in America called his photographs “Stark, visceral images that hark back to vintage Walker Evans and also have some of the surreal strangeness of Diane Arbus’s portraits of social misfits.”
interview with, and photographs by