Reflex Gallery is thrilled to announce a double-sided exhibition of work by internationally acclaimed photographer Roger Ballen. Divided into two, the show will comprise a mini retrospective of 30 or so works, alongside a selection of 150 polaroid images, which condense his singular vision in a small, affordable format.
Ballen is one of the world’s greatest photographers. He picked up a camera in the late 1960s and has never put it down. His extraordinary oeuvre comprises some of the most arresting and original images ever produced. “Ballenesque” – a term firmly part of the lexicon – is synonymous with his rich monochrome vision, his acute psychological insight, and his constant reinvention of his artistic style.
My purpose in taking photographs over the past 40 years has ultimately been about defining myself. It has been fundamentally a psychological and existential journey. If an artist is one who spends his life trying to define his being, I suppose I would have to call myself an artist.
Roger Ballen was born in New York in 1950, but has lived and worked in South Africa for over 30 years. A geologist by training, his work took him to explore the hidden world of South African towns. There, he produced extraordinary images of the empty streets bleached by the sun, but it was once he started knocking on people’s doors, he discovered a world within, that would have a profound and defining effect on his work. These closed interiors, strewn with mysterious objects, and no less intriguing inhabitants, took him on a path from social critique to the creation of metaphors for the inner mind. “I went inside metaphorically and literally,” he has said.
Ballen’s oeuvre can roughly be divided into series. Each series is captured in his iconic monographs – Boyhood, Dorps, Platteland, Outland, Shadow Chamber, Boarding House, Asylum of the Birds, Theatre of Apparitions – each the result of five years intensive scrutiny behind the lens.
Cell-like rooms, filled with seemingly scrappy, incongruous objects, figures partially concealed, increasingly unidentifiable.
Tangled wires, masks. Birds, cats, dogs, rats, snakes, humans, all rubbing along together – with curiously little domestic feeling. A disturbing, jarring, thought-provoking view of existence.
Chalk scrawls on the concrete walls – painted faces, masks and props, graffiti - an increasing blurring of boundaries between photograph, drawing and painting.
Ballen’s unparalleled output is predominantly a deeply complex exploration of the psyche.
A hit YouTube film, “Ballenesque”, has drawn many into his singular world, uniting his long-term collectors with a younger generation.
His video with the rock group Die Antwoord of the song “I Fink U Freeky”, has collected over 100m hits on YouTube, bringing his aesthetic viscerally to life.
The Reflex Gallery show presents a chance to see a condensed selection of life work in an intimate space. A display of 30 limited edition large-scale images (40x40cm or 80x80m) from his early work to the present.
“I first started taking polaroid photographs in 1963 after I obtained a camera for my Bar Mitzvah present from my aunt. To this day, I can remember the smell of the liquid that one put over the black and white images to preserve them.
Polaroids have always had a magical feeling to them. This was especially true years ago, when it took time to process the images that one shot on film.When I first moved to South Africa I would take polaroid photographs of the African people I met. Like myself, they were enamoured by this media.”
Commissioned for Reflex Gallery, Ballen has turned his vision to the classic polaroid format, in a selection of 150 unique images. An extension of the series Ballen is working on currently, these polaroids constitute the first display of colour images by the artist during his entire career.
A photograph has to feel as if it can never occur again.
This element of the Reflex show presents an incredible opportunity to own an original Roger Ballen image.
The exhibition will be accompanied by to new publications: Ballenesque, Roger Ballen A Retrospective (Thames & Hudson). A book of nearly 350 pages documents the development of Ballen’s photographic style over a period of 50 years.
Roger Ballen – Polaroids (Reflex Editions) Published on the occasion of the exhibition at Reflex Amsterdam this publication gives a unique overview of Ballen’s polaroids from 2016 until now.
Roger Ballen’s work is housed in the permanent collections of some of the world’s greatest art institutions from MoMA, New York to LACMA, Los Angeles to The Pushkin Museum of Art, Moscow, Tate Britain, London, and many many more.