Puppy between feet

In her 2004 book The Photograph as Contemporary Art, Charlotte Cotton describes Roger Ballen’s work in the following terms:

‘…Ballen’s photographs are black and white in the tradition of humanist documentary photography, but without any obvious narrative content that depicts social or political change. There is perhaps a greater affinity between Ballen’s imagery and monochromatic painting or drawing than there is with photography’s social history’

On his website Ballen says ‘My purpose in taking photographs over the past forty years has ultimately been about defining myself. It has been fundamentally a psychological and existential journey.’

So far so clear, this is not social documentary – it is something else. And yet his work has provokes dramatic and at times massively negative reactions because it is judged as such. Maybe not the puzzling tender images such as ‘Puppy Between Feet’ above, but certainly his confrontational images such as Dresie and Casie (Bottom RHS here) from the series Platteland.

Therefore a major exhibition of his work Shadow Land at Manchester Art Gallery which explores three decades of his career, charting the evolution of his unique photographic style is an unmissable opportunity for an OCA study visit. And because of the nature of Roger Ballen’s work we think that the visit will challenge and intrigue students from across the visual arts. The visit, on Thursday 10 May will start at 11.15 and will be led by Peter Haveland. To book your free place please email enquiries@oca-uk.com

If you can’t make the visit take a look at Roger Ballen’s website and listen to this interview on lens culture. And if you finally think you have a handle on Roger Ballen’s work, take a look at this video he directed for Die Antwoord – described in the BJP as the South African ‘band that has single-handedly brought “Zef” style, a euphoric glorification of the trash-bling underbelly of white post-apartheid South Africa to worldwhile attention.’


  1. marmalade 30 March 2012 at 12:27 pm

    This has to be one of the most compelling music videos I have ever seen…this and much of Ballen’s other work is truly inspiring. Going this weekend and might even think about going twice!! His work is right up there imo.

  2. RobTM 30 March 2012 at 5:02 pm

    I might be working that day, but I’ve sent of a provisional request for a place. His work (stills and video) certainly looks interesting, and there’s many a scene in the I fink U freaky video that could make a still image – yes, interesting…

    BTW, hidden in the text above is a reference to BJP (referring to the video), Ballen is featured in this months magazine.

  3. Catherine 31 March 2012 at 11:19 am

    The video reminds me of ‘Omega Man’ – film of many years ago with Charlton Heston. Pity Manchester is a bit far for me for a day.

  4. Anna Goodchild 31 March 2012 at 12:41 pm

    There is a great article on him in April’s BJP.

  5. Julia 1 April 2012 at 1:56 pm

    ‘I fink you Freeky and I like you a lot’. I would love to know how this film got made and how much freedom Ballen had in making the film. Presumably music videos require a lot of negotiation between musicians, actors and film directors. This one has so much in the detail I wonder where the ideas all came from.

  6. Dewald 5 April 2012 at 12:33 am

    I’ve kept from commenting until now, because I was not quite sure how I felt about his work… and I still don’t know.

    His personal statement struck a chord with me, the whole defining oneself through the art medium you choose. At this point in PWDP I’ve just read The Vertigo of Displacement by David A. Bailey & Stuart Hall, which made for interesting reading, since it discusses the concept that only a person from a specific group can truly objectively portray that group, or whether an outsider with deep knowledge can as well…

    Defining himself would then essentially have many different layers, that of being a male, skin colour, nationality, etc… and it is interesting to see what he uses to find this definition.

    Something which I found refreshing was that I didn’t pick up on the really tired apartheid thing, because he seems to disregard this. Its only Cotton who mentioned it, and although it might be important, it probably will always be, it is nice to see someone giving it a rest.

    I personally don’t like the images, but I must be honest if I say I think they’re interesting and really good. My feeling towards the images are not objective, since my own feelings towards the country and culture is warped, it is still something that I am, a South African, but how I feel about that particular layer of MY identity influences the way I feel about the people he photographs.

    He defines (a section of) SA by photographing the ‘freeks’, which is a group which we can’t really cut ourselves loose from, just like Nan Golding said in the BBC series, The Genius of Photography (thanks for the copy Susanne), ‘the lesbian and gay community was ashamed of the trans-gender group ages ago’.

    If his work is then defining that section of society, of this specific country, and with final intent to define himself as person, his work most certainly have to be challenging, engaging and an interesting experience to view…

    It would be really interesting to hear how you guys find his work…

  7. AMANO 9 April 2012 at 4:13 pm

    I have put my name down for this day and expect it to be challenging … when I saw his work in BJP, I skipped it … !!??

    1. John 9 April 2012 at 4:21 pm

      I too “skipped-it” until I came back from the show. I’m sure, like me, you will get a lot out of it Amano. A preparedness to be challenged would seem to be a sound choice. I am sorry to miss the study day and the post tour discussions as they will be lively, I’m sure.

  8. AMANO 8 May 2012 at 11:39 am

    So I am making the long haul up from the South West to attend this day; not sure I really understand Ballen’s work in spite of my research. Look forward to a good discussion afterwards and possibly during; it might help me to like Ballen’s work a little more !!?

    My pre-blog is here …


  9. AMANO 8 May 2012 at 12:17 pm

    The video mentioned in the OCA write up is worth watching; this much I enjoyed …

  10. RobTM 13 May 2012 at 8:45 am

    My thoughts on the day can be found here


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