Roger Ballen unveils the thought process behind his gritty brand of photography, and what makes it art.
Images courtesy the artist
Expatriate American photographer Roger Ballen is known for exploring the dark recesses of South Africa, and the darker recesses of his own mind, in his work. Before 1997, he shot documentary-style images of the inequality he saw when he moved to Johannesburg, but he later began to incorporate himself into the images through heavy art direction and thoughtful symbolism, starting with his 2001 photo book Outland. His style is chaotic, rejoicing in grime and dirt, straying as far away from upper middle class normalcy as possible. In 2012, he directed South African Zef rap duo Die Antwoord's "I Fink U Freeky," video bringing his feral fascinations into the mainstream.
Ballen's journey from documentarian to auteur makes him ideal for a Cooperative of Photography (COOPH) feature in which he explains the difference between photography and art. "As an artist, I use photography as a medium to express my artistic vision," he says in the video, entitled, You May Be A Photographer, But Are You An Artist? He continues, "Why do some works stick? Why are some works fleeting? If you ponder this, then you may be an artist."
"[Talking to Ballen] made me rethink my photography," says COOPH video director Matthew Rycroft. "I'm still thinking about it months after meeting him, because I really want to create something unique when I press the shutter, not just create another stock photo... The most memorable part was when a pigeon in his office scared me and I thought I had entered the Asylum of the Birds [a Ballen film] for a second."
Check out all of his tips, advice, and observations in the COOPH video below.
Rat Man, 2000.