“Photography is an art and a science,” says photographer, Roger Ballen.
The author of ten books and director of Die Antwoord music video, I Fink U Freeky, which has 7,254,445 Youtube hits to date, cannot believe his success. “It is very surreal, I can’t believe our video has millions of hits already,” says Ballen.The production of his first music video took only two weeks to conceptualise and created a happy medium between music, photography and film says Ballen. “It takes one step at a time. In quite a few of these pictures there might be a couple thousand steps before I capture the feeling I want. Sometimes I take three pictures and sometimes I take 30 before I’m satisfied.” His latest exhibition, Playpen, held at the North-West University gallery, showcased a selection of various pictures from his ten published books.Playpen features photographs that Ballen took over many years during his travels from Cape Town to Caïro and Istanbul to Niue Guinea in the 70’s.The exhibition showcased images from most of Ballen’s collections including striking photographs from the Shadow chamber (2005) book that shows ambiguous images of isolated animals, people and objects posed in cell-like rooms.
Art is a process where he relaxes his mind. He thinks of nothing before photographing a subject. “It is like a cat sitting in a corner just closing his eyes and the minute he hears the rat he becomes alert. I just rest my mind when I take photos.” Animals, children and dolls are the subjects of most of his photographs. He finds them fascinating and uses his subjects to convey a feeling rather than a message in his work. He says his best pictures are the ones even he can’t describe.
“I don’t know how anybody responds to my work. It doesn’t have to be translated into words. It can just be a feeling that stays with you. You can feel it in your stomach. When you smell a flower, there’s no word for it. You just smell the essence of it.”
Ballen is one of few professional photographers that exclusively work with film photography. He calls it a dying art. “I like black and white photography because it’s minimalistic and very formalistic. It is abstract, it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is. Black and white is black and white.”
The surreal and intriguing world created in every Roger Ballen Photograph transcends the boundaries of documentary photography and creates art instead. Ballen’s success is not measured by his countless exhibitions, films, published books and museum collections across the world, but rather art that will stay relevant long after his death he says. “How many pictures make up your mind? ” Ballen asks. It is a process that cannot be defined and if it’s good art it lasts forever.
Scroll down to view some of Ballen’s work:
Click here to view our back Issue (22) which features Roger Ballen.