Roger Ballen was born in New York City in 1950 and has lived in Johannesburg South Africa for almost 30 years. Beginning by documenting the small dorps or villages of rural South Africa, Ballen’s photography moved on in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s to focus on their inhabitants. By the mid 1990’s his principal subjects were the white underclass of South Africa, a largely marginalized group that is rarely thought to exist. Ballen’s images of these disaffiliated people began to move into a more collaborative, constructed effort between subject and photographer; his sitters would act where previously his pictures, however troubling, fell firmly into the category of documentary photography. In the fall of 2005, Phaidon Press produced its second book by the artist, entitled “Shadow Chamber”. The book focuses on the interactions between the people, animals and or objects that inhabit Ballen’s uniquely built image space. Ballen’s photographs have become painterly and sculptural in ways not immediately associated with photographs. References to the stage-sets and characters of Beckett plays, to the painted cages and fleshy torments of Francis Bacon paintings abound in Ballen’s own claustrophobic, psychologically- charged scenes. Sebastian Smee has written that “Ballen’s photographs confront us with things we fear and things we cherish, then sow confusion between the two”.
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