Roger Ballen’s work attracts me and repels me at the same time, but every time I see it, it makes me stop to think. At a show last year in Paris, I remember marveling at how absolutely perfect the prints were — beautiful prints of some filthy places and unclean people in bizarrely staged settings — with impeccable lighting and composition.
So, I was delighted to discover this very candid recent interview with Ballen by Chas Bowie in the latest issue of SeeSaw Magazine. Here is just a brief excerpt:
Chas Bowie: “Your photographs tend to always have an element of spontaneity to them, as still as they might appear.”
Roger Ballen: “There has to be. That’s such an interesting thing that I’ve discovered in photography. A lot of artists today use photography, and they create these sort of installations or conceptual photographs. But you remember almost none of those photographs. They just sort of sit there and you have to figure out the guy’s theory to get into the work. The reason the images don’t get inside you is because the artists don’t understand anything about photography. You can’t just set things up and photograph them and expect the picture to “zap.” It is very important that the mind feels that there is a moment of truth or a moment of authenticity. It’s really crucial, because if the artist’s hand is seen as too strong, the pictures seem either dead or contrived. The mind doesn’t believe it. The mind has to see that photograph as commenting on some aspect of truth, whatever truth means.
“The most common question people ask me, especially in Shadow Chamber, is “Is this place real, did you make it, did you do this, did you do that?” The answer is, there are so many answers to that question. Everything you see in Shadow Chamber is me, because nobody else could take those pictures, even if they went to the same place as me. So it’s way of viewing the world photographically, it’s a very complex way of seeing it. Then, each one of those pictures involves thousands and thousands of subconscious and conscious steps to get to that point. Because photography is such an easy medium to master technically, especially with today’s cameras, people don’t realize that it’s not just being able to pick up a camera. When I lift that camera up to take a picture, I’ve gone through thousands of steps to get to that point. That’s what you’re really seeing; it’s a complex view of the world, through my imagination, through my experiences. It’s a science and art at the same time.”
You can see more of Roger Ballen’s work, and read more interviews with him, at his own web site.
And find more of interest at Chas Bowie’s web site, Your Daily Awesome.