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The Photography of Roger Ballen by Roger Ballen

One of the biggest photographers of the 21st century visits Zagreb in September

Roger Ballen is one of the most influential and most important photographers of the 21st century. In September, as a part of the 7th International Photography Festival Organ Vida, Ballen will visit Zagreb as one of the members of the international jury of the festival. In a talk entitled The photography of Roger Ballen by Roger Ballen, Ballen will sit down with Leila Topić, curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, to discuss his work and to present his recently published expanded edition of the book Outland, his best known photography book, as well as his movie. Both the book and the movie created a big controversy, provoked the interest of the public and became one of the most unusual photography projects of the 21st century.

The native New Yorker has lived in South Africa since the late 80s, documenting the inhabitants of marginal sections of the society, intellectually disabled, and those whose existential conditions deteriorated gravely after they lost the privileges of the apartheid.

Roger Ballen was initially focused on documentary photography, and in the 1990s he developed a style based on fictitious records, but in his latest works, Boarding House and Asylum of the Birds, he narrowed the boundary between fiction and reality. In these works, Ballen combined drawing, painting, collage and sculpture in order to create complex sets. These works are an important contribution to art. Ballen expanded his repertoire and visual language, and by combining drawing, photography and video, he not only contributed to art, but he also gave a strong comment on the human condition and its creative potential.

In 2012, he went further “overground” in dramatic fashion when the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord persuaded him to direct the characteristically disturbing video for their single I Find U Freeky. It was a viral hit, receiving over 30 million hits on YouTube.

This is how Leila Topić announced her talk with Roger Ballen: «Although many compare Roger Ballen’s photography to the work of Diane Arbus and the atmosphere in her photographs, Ballen’s key influences are Samuel Beckett and the theatre of the absurd, the term that expresses best the absurdity of the human condition and the inability to grasp rational interpretations of life. In Ballen’s staged scenes, members of the underprivileged South African communities are shown in a detached and dislocated way, and the atmosphere of the photographs often evokes chill and apprehension. His photographs also evoke the term uncanny, i.e. Freud’s term unheimlich. However, it is obvious that all Ballen’s subjects willingly agreed to being photographed and were in an unusual way proud to be a part of his creation. As Ballen often points out in his interviews, he does not think that he is exploiting the outsiders in his work, but that his definition of beauty is different than the usual. For him, photography is a way of looking in the mirror.”

The talk, book presenting and book signing will take place on Saturday, September 5, at 18h in the atrium of Klovićevi dvori gallery.

Ballen is not only a guest teacher at this year’s International Photography Festival Organ Vida, but he is also a member of the international jury which has chosen ten finalists whose works will be presented in the festival’s central exhibition in Klovićevi dvori Gallery in Zagreb.