Girl in white dress, ‘Boarding house’ series. 2002
Portrait of sleeping girl, ‘Outland’ series. 2001

Roger Ballen

About the artist

1950 —

Roger Ballen, born 1950 in New York City, is a dual citizen of the US and South Africa. In California, he studied psychology, became exposed to the Theatre of the Absurd and discovered existential photography. In 1969, Ballen photographed Woodstock, the seminal music and arts festival, and would in later life attribute some understanding of the human experience to this. In the early '70s, he painted art brut in New York, before travelling Europe and Africa with a camera and Kodak Tri-X film.

In South Africa, Ballen met his future wife, the artist and paper-maker Lynda Moross, with whom he had twins in 1989. Ballen rejected commercial photography, and after settling in Johannesburg he received a PhD in Mineral Economics. Across rural South Africa, he photographed boys for the series Boyhood, and whites who had once benefitted from apartheid but were now economically deprived. Since 1994, he has mostly taken photographs closer to home in the city. Ballen has described his work as "existential psychodrama," with frequent themes of chaos, human-animal connection, and a blurring of the lines between reality and fantasy.

His work, therefore, is frequently strange, often extreme or confronting, and highly open to interpretation. Ballen has worked with other media in recent years, shooting the music video I Fink U Freeky in collaboration with the rock band Die Antwoord in 2012, exhibiting works of sculpture in Syndey and Paris, and drawing on canvas for the first time in almost five decades during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. He remains both a cult hero and one of the foremost artists, photographic or otherwise, of the twenty-first century.

Technical information

Image 1: Girl in white dress, ‘Boarding house’ series. 2002
Size: 50 x 50 cm
Print techique: gelatin silver

Image 2: Portrait of sleeping girl, ‘Outland’ series. 2001
Size: 40 x 40 cm
Print techique: gelatin silver