Ballen speaks

Keith Gallasch

Twirling wires, 2001, Shadow Chamber

Twirling wires, 2001, Shadow Chamber

Twirling wires, 2001, Shadow Chamber

One of life’s stranger experiences in recent months was to be part of a large Saturday afternoon crowd guided by photographer Roger Ballen through his show at Stills. First, there’s Ballen himself—a tall, langorous, baritonal American with a South African edge to the accent. Then there’s his calculatedly gnomic manner—he peppers basic information about his life with rhetorical questions meant to deny us easy answers to the mysteries of his work. Thirdly, there are the photographs—eerily akin to images from the work of theatre director Romeo Castelluci in their juxtaposition of human and animal bodies, drawings, sculptural and everyday objects, conjuring a very strange, sometimes visionary otherness. One-time geologist Ballen progressed from documentary photography in the 1980s in South Africa (knocking on the doors of small town householders and asking to come in and shoot) to spending many months with the impoverished of Johannesburg in an underworld of damp basements where humans and animals co-exist and a curious creativity abounds which Ballen captures. The outcomes sometimes look like pure artifice, but the best have a spontaneity at once theatrical and documentary in their courage to face the abject point blank and reveal its complexities. KG

Roger Ballen, Shadow Chamber, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Aug 16-Sept 16

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg.

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2006