I haven’t always been conflicted about the photographs of Roger Ballen.
Ten or so years ago, when I ran across his book, Platteland, I thought it was great. The images there were mostly reality-based portraits shot in the South African countryside. You could see a direct line from Disfarmer, through Arbus and Avedon, to what Ballen was showing us, and how he was showing it.
Then time went on and Ballen’s work progressed. The imagery became more and more melodramatic, and overstatement and repetition became a kind of modus operandi. Along with this he developed some kind of overarching philosophy about what his work was about and how it might be interpreted (and doesn’t seem shy about telling you about it). I began to have my doubts.
You see, my own biases are towards reality-based imagery. I try to like and appreciate constructed imagery, but often my heart’s not in it. I think, too, that I am (rightly or wrongly) kind of turned off when an artists’ pronouncements and legend-building move too far forward in their scheme of things.
Having said all that I also have to say that I’m intrigued by what he does and am still in thrall of that early work. So it was with great interest that I went to have a look at THERE IS NO OUTSIDE, a show of Roger Ballen prints at SPAO.
The show is modest . . . we see 9 Ballen prints. There is also a video monitor showing 2 documentary-type things and a music video.
It is impossible to assess the scope and progress of Ballen’s work with such a small sampling, though there is also a copy of Ballen’s latest book, Ballenesque, on view . . . a compendium his work along with enough writing for you to see where he’s coming from.
It is a pleasure to be able to approach and study the prints. I was struck by the grit, and the sheer old-school photographic-ness of them. Too, there is something to be said for being alone in a gallery with this imagery, being able to walk up to and away from it, to see the actual artifact.
Kudos to SPAO for bringing this exhibition to Kapital City. It is the first in SPAO’s new series of annual exhibitions that feature an international artist. I look forward to seeing where they go from here with this program.
drool. will be taking a summer vacation.
Regular programming will resume September 2nd.
Of course, that’s not to say there won’t be some kind os special, one-off episodes appearing between now and then. There might be. I don’t know.
Enjoy the summer.