Shadow Land is photographer Roger Ballen’s first major exhibition in Russia. Born in New York in 1950, the South African photographer Roger Ballen's fascination with the grotesque and obscure is a recurring theme in all of his series. After completing his trip around the world, Roger Ballen enrolled at the Colorado School of Mines and in 1981 returned to Johannesburg, South Africa, to work as a geologist. During his travels throughout South Africa, he photographed the Dorps (1986), i.e., village communities where the descendants of the Boers still live today. The book Platteland, Images from Rural South Africa (1994) captures the residents of this countryside in their spartan living quarters.
Thus, this retrospective presented at ROSPHOTO covers three decades of work from his early series, Dorps and the highly charged and controversial series’ Platteland, Outland, Shadow Chamber and Boarding House through to unseen new work from the series, Asylum.
Over the past thirty years his distinctive style of photography has evolved using a simple square format in stark and beautiful black and white. In the earlier works in the exhibition his connection to the tradition of documentary photography is clear but through the 1990s he developed a style he describes as ‘documentary fiction’. After 1995 the people he first discovered and documented living on the margins of South African society increasingly became a cast of actors working with Ballen in the series’ Outland and Shadow Chamber collaborating to create disturbing psychodramas.
The line between fantasy and reality in his more recent series’ Boarding House and Asylum (to be published in 2013) has become increasingly blurred and in these series he has employed drawings, painting, collage and sculptural techniques to create elaborate sets. People are now often absent altogether; replaced by photographs of people used as props, by doll or dummy parts or where they do appear it’s as disembodied hands, feet and mouths poking disturbingly through walls and pieces of rag.
ROSPHOTO: State Museum and Exhibition Centre for Photography Websie