Roger Ballen in conversation with Robert Cook

Posted on May 7, 2009


Roger Ballen

Roger Ballen in conversation with Robert Cook

Gallery One and Two
May 7 – 29,2009

Over the last 30 years Roger Ballen has developed a unique photographic oeuvre. His strong consistent aesthetic – all the works are square black and white photographs of modest dimensions – and his approach to his subject, the “human condition,” make him an outstanding figure in contemporary photography.

Working in the isolation of rural South Africa Ballen has developed a way to depict human existence as absurd and tragic. His photographic language has its roots in the photo-documentary, seen in the Oorps and Platteland series. These series were dominated by images of the inhabitants of the poor rural
areas of South Africa that Ballen encountered while working as a professional geologist. In the later series, Outland and Shadow Chamber, his evolution towards a style that blends reality and theatre, exploring the physical and the psychological can be seen.

Ballen’s work is striking and controversial. He asks his subjects to “perform” the theatre of their life and blurs the borders between documentary and staged photography. His portraits often occur in run down interiors with wires and graffiti on the wall and his subjects are occupied with strange actions,
often in mute dialogues with animals. Everything in the photographic field is important from the mark on the wall to the facial expression. Ballen focuses on the human as the human animal, showing humans as potentially cruel and violent, as fragile and vulnerable, as tender and caring.

In his most recent series Boarding House, the human is almost absent from the images, leaving instead skins and bones, drawings on the walls and battered stuffed animals. The structures are transient, furnished for basic survival, yet transformed by the drawings and objects into places of dark
imagination. More overtly surrealistic and psychologically driven, the works reinforce his statement that “a shadow runs through my work.”

ST PAUL ST is showing works by Roger Ballen from his early career in the 1980s until the present. Iconic images of all the important groups of works Dorps, 1985, Platteland, 1994, Outland, 2001, Shadow Chamber, 2005 and Boarding House, 2009 will be on display.

The exhibition is curated by Leonhard Emmerling in collaboration with the artist.

1 Robert Cook, Brutal, Tender, Human, Animal: Roger Ballen Photography Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2007. Rober Ballen in conversation with Robert Cook.



Born: 1950, New York City. Resides: Johannesburg, South Africa


  1. Boarding House. Introduction by David Travis. Phaidon Press, London 2009
  2. Sadow Chamber. Introduction by Robert A Sobieszek. Phaidon Press, London 2005
  3. Outland. Introduction by Peter Weiermair. Phaidon Press, London 2001
  4. Cette Afrique la. Introduction by Lionel Murcott. Photo Pouche series,
    Editions Nathan Paris 1997
  5. Platteland, Images of a Rural South Africa. Introduction by Roger Ballen. William Waterman Publications 1994, Quartet Books, London 1994, St Martins Press, New York 1996
  6. Dorps, Small Towns of South Africa. Introduction by Roger Ballen. Clifton Publications, South Africa. 1986
  7. Boyhood. Introduction by Roger Ballen. Chelsea House Publishers, New York-London 1979.


  1. “Memento Mori” Saskia Vredeveld The Netherlands, 2005
  2. NPS Television, The Netherlands “Selfportrait, Roger Ballen” 2002
  3. ITV Television. “Platteland, Images from Rural South Africa” South Bank
    Show, London. 1995
  4. South African Broadcasting Corporation. “Dorps, Small Towns of South
    Africa”. Film documentary on Roger Ballen’s book. 1986.


  1. Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, Australia Berkeley Art Museum, California Biblioteque Nationale, Paris
  2. Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA
  3. Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
  4. Durban Art Gallery, Durban, South Africa
  5. Fotomuseum, Munchen, Germany
  6. Hasselblad, Goteborg, Sweden
  7. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, USA
  8. Johannesburg Art Museum, South Africa
  9. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USA
  10. Louisiana Museum, Denmark
  11. Maison Europeene de la Photographie, Paris
  12. Musee de la Photographie a Charleroi, Belguim
  13. Museet for Fotokunst, Denmark
  14. Museo nazionale Della Fotographia, Brescia, Italy
  15. Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany
  16. Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, USA
  17. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, USA
  18. Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
  19. National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
  20. Spencer Art Museum, Kansas, USA
  21. Stejelijk Museum, Amsterdam
  22. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK
  23. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, USA


  1. National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2009
  2. BWA Gallery, Katowice, Poland, 2008
  3. Hertzelia Artists Host Centre, Tel Aviv, Israel, 2008
  4. Omaggio a Federico Vender at Palazzo dei Panni of Arco Trento Su Palatu, Sardinia, 2008
  5. Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2007
  6. Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, 2007
  7. Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, 2007
  8. Berlin Biennial, Berlin, 2006
  9. Biblioteque Nationale, Paris, 2006
  10. Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, 2006
  11. Museum voor Fotografie, Antwerp, 2006
  12. Durban Art Gallery, South Africa, 2005
  13. Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands, 2005
  14. Berkeley Art Museum, California, 2004
  15. Dieci Comme Itd, Tokyo, 2004
  16. State Museum of Russia, St Petersburg, 2003
  17. Centro Cultural de Maia, O’Porto, Spain, 2002
  18. Museet for Fotokunst, Odense Denmark, 2002
  19. Museo Nazionalle Italy, Brescia Italy, 2002
  20. Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, 2002
  21. Encontros da imagem, Braga Portugal, 2001
  22. Krefelder Kunstmuseen, Krefeld, Germany, 2001
  23. Museum of Modern Art Rupertinum, Salzburg, 2001
  24. Museum of Photography, Athens, Greece, 2000


  1. Untitled (Vicarious), Gagosian Gallery, New York, USA, 2008
  2. After Nature, New Museum, New York USA, 2008
  3. New York Photo Festival, New York USA, 2008
  4. Cautionary Tales, Albuquerque USA, 2008
  5. Snaps, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg South Africa, 2005
  6. Making Faces, Musee de l’Elysee, 2004
  7. Citigroup Photography Prize, London, 2002
  8. Sal a Rekalde, Bilbao 2002 “Dislocation” Centro Cultural de Maia O’Porto, 2002 “Dislocation” Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2002 “New documentary photography” 2002
  9. National Portrait Gallery, London, 2002
  10. Museet for Fotokunst, Odense C Denmark, Hall of Mirrors, 2001
  11. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam Holland, Recent Acquisitions, 2001
  12. La Natura Della Natura Morta, Italy, 2001/02
  13. Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Portraits of Africa, 2000



Left to right

Shadow Chamber

 40 x 40 cm Gelatin Silver Prints on Fibre Courtesy Roger Ballen and Stills Gallery, Sydney 

  1. Twirling wires, 2001
  2. Oblivious, 2003
  3. Puppy on table, 2000
  4. Rhythms, 2003
  5. Bitten, 2004
  6. Funeral rites, 2004
  7. Stefanus
  8. Early morning, 2001
  9. Lunchtime, 2001
  10. Rat Cemetery, 2001
  11. Juxtaposed, 2004
  12. Recluse, 2002
  13. Perpetrator, 2003
  14. Ape skull, 2002
  15. Inmate, 2003

Boarding House

50 x 50 cm Digital Prints on Fibre Courtesy Roger Ballen

  1. Upseedaisy, 2008
  2. Culmination, 2007
  3. Revenge, 2008
  4. Skins and bones, 2007
  5. Pathos, 2005
  6. Seed pods, 2008
  7. Boarding house, 2008

Shadow Chamber

40 x 40 cm Gelatin Silver prints on Fibre Courtesy Roger Ballen and Stills Gallery, Sydney

  1. Prison window
  2. Sullen, 2002
  3. Loner, 2001
  4. Crouched,2003
  5. Hungry dog, 2003
  6. Configuration, 2003
  7. Fraught, 2003



From left to right


40 x 40 cm Gelatin Silver Print on Fibre Courtesy Roger Ballen

       1.        Dresie & Cassie, twins, Western Transvaal 1993


40 x 40 cm Gelatin Silver Print on Fibre Courtesy Roger Ballen and Stills Gallery, Sydney

       2.        Bedroom, Nieu-Bethesda, 1985


40 x 40 cm Gelatin Silver Prints on Fibre Courtesy Roger Ballen and Stills Gallery, Sydney

  1. Eugene on the phone, 2000
  2. Rats on kitchen table, 1999
  3. Portrait of sleeping girl, 2000
  4. Michael and Gerrie, 1995
  5. Puppy between feet, 1999
  6. Sickroom, 2000
  7. Factory worker holding portrait of grandfather, 1996
  8. Study of boy and plant, 1999
  9. Les hammering into wall, 2000
  10. Family portrait, 2000
  11. Cat catcher, 1998
  12. Woman, man and dog, 1995

Shadow Chamber

40 x 40 cm Gelatin Silver Prints on Fibre Courtesy Roger Ballen and Stills Gallery, Sydney

  1. Chicken mask, 2002
  2. Room of the Ninja Turtles, 2003
  3. Bentback,2001
  4. Head inside shirt, 2001
  5. Prowling, 2001