Roger Ballen: Boarding House

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Phaidon Press, Mar 29, 2009 - Photography - 128 pages
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Roger Ballen's photographs are like images from a waking dream: compelling and thought-provoking, with layers of rich details, flashes of dark humor, and an altered sense of place. Blurring the boundaries between documentary photography and autonomic art, his work is both a powerful social statement and a complex psychological study.
Accompanying the exhibition at Johnen Galerie Berlin Phaidon Press publishes Boarding House by Roger Ballen, a new collection of photographs by the South African photographer. Showcasing over 70 black and white images, mostly unpublished, this is Ballen's most formally sophisticated work to date. An introductory essay by photography curator David Travis is looking at these images in the wider context of Ballen's career.
Boarding House is a space of transient residence, of comings and goings, of people sheltered in a place they are using for their immediate survival. Basic and fundamental, the structure is furnished with objects necessary for an elementary existence, decorated with evocative drawings, and littered throughout with animals. Remnants function there as physical symbols of events that have occurred in the space; broken pieces of a functional reality exist as the leftovers of scenarios that have been played out there. The altered sense of place of this temporary abode creates a sense of alienation, which acts as a jumping off point for the imagination to run wild. The tableaux have a greater emphasis on drawn and sculptural elements, and the sense of collaboration between the artist and his subjects is increasingly relevant. Similar to his critically acclaimed work Outland and Shadow Chamber, the Boarding House is a journey of discovery in which we leave our ordinary selves behind and confront a primitive part of the human condition and its psyche. Whether the place is real or imaginary is both indecipherable and irrelevant. It is a place where Ballen's subconscious and the viewer's inhibitions can occupy its own universe.

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About the author (2009)

Roger Ballen (b. 1950) has lived and worked in Johannesburg, South Africa for almost 30 years. Born in New York, he worked as a geologist and mining consultant before starting his photographic career by documenting the small villages of rural South Africa and their isolated inhabitants. His images are both powerful social statements and disturbing psychological studies. Ballen’s book Outland, also published by Phaidon, was named Best Photographic book of the Year at PhotoEspaña 2001, Madrid, Spain.

David Traviswas chair of the Department of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago until July 2008, having worked at the institute for 36 years. He curated more than 150 photography exhibitions at the institute and also guest-curated exhibitions at other American museums, including the National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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