Roger Ballen

- - Photographers

via, lens culture. Brilliant!

There Are 17 Comments On This Article.

  1. Robert Karpa

    This is some of the best work I’ve seen in a long time. Amazing to me how it looks like photojournalistic work but is so carefully thought out and crafted. That’s one book I will look for.

  2. There’s no doubt that this man is a master of composition.

    Having said that, the theory he espouses at the start of the video seems shallow and a bit dogmatic. Like some others, I have faced down and ultimately embraced my dark side, yet I still see his images as disturbing, and that’s OK. It does not mean that I have not faced my own repression.

    It’s interesting to note that his body language for the majority of the interview is somewhat robotic, and he seems defensive.

    On a related tangent, I may appreciate a Francis Bacon painting in a museum setting, but does that mean that I would invite his work to reside within my house?

    Regarding some of his choices of portraying outsiders over the years, there is a fine line that he and others cross, (of course, Arbus comes to mind) so that the spectacle of their subjects become the star of the image, and in effect justifies our stares. It’s OK to stare at the photo, but in person, we are fearful to befriend these people. How about we just be respectful to these people in real life, and get to know them, rather than leaning on possibly voyeuristic channels to deal with our unsettled feelings? The fascination with these images is largely because their oddity titillates us. Is this the criteria for a “great” image.

    Just my two (repressed) cents. Money ain’t worth what it used to be.

    • @Paul,

      Paul – well said.

      However, do you really think that we are going to get to know these people in real life or take the initiative ? Smiling to the unwanted and sharing a sandwich with the hungry is not enough to really befriend someone. I understand the sentiment but it seems not to be practical. In our busy lives can we seriously engage the outcast of society with the sincerity and emotional commitment to them that in which we bring to our families and trusted friends ? I am not saying to maintain the poorly veiled disdain that common society thrust upon these people, but lets be practical.

      I do feel that Ballen does meet the criteria for making “great” imagery, mostly because the criteria for a “great” image is not so narrowly defined. And more importantly many these images are great because of the nuance rather than shock value. I think you are correct in saying the oddities of the subjects titillate us, how could they not ? I am just not sure that is the only driving force in this imagery. Ballen is a svengali of composition and the subjects do not seemed objectified. Anyway, just my two cents.


      • @Aaron Kotowski,

        I appreciate your questions. You are correct, it’s not too practical to get to know everyone, and I suppose that I was a bit idealistic in my response. But, even short-term acts of sincere kindness have a ripple effect, and the majority of people are afraid to interact with folks who seem / look odd.

        As to the driving force of his imagery, your remark is valid, and I need to spend more time really looking at the body of his work.

        Whether he objectifies his subjects, this is subjective to each viewer, like in all things. And for me, the jury’s still out.

        Thanks for your comments.

        • @Paul,

          Hi Paul,

          I couldn’t agree more about the ripple effect of any act of kindness. I am also with you in the notion that the majority of people are becoming increasingly polarized and sincere interactions ( whether fleeting moments or long term bonds) are becoming less and less common.

          Anyway, I was glad to hear your argument, it was nice to see a dissenting opinion for once (and well articulated).

    • @Paul,
      I sometimes feel people repress respectfulness, kindness and joy a lot more than their darker side. It’s hard to embrace humanity; much easier to cast a dark shadow on the more troubling parts. Showing the dark side has its virtues, but I think artists all to easily jump to that, rather than digging for complex human emotion.

      • @TimR,

        Very insightful. The complexity of emotions is something we spend a lifetime learning, if we are open to it.

        I’m unsure if your last sentence was referring to my criticism / questions in my original post. If so, that is fine. I have been accused of being overly-critical before.

        As I alluded to when I conversed with Aaron, I was probably personally reacting to something which I feel strongly about. I feel a need to speak up on behalf of the outsiders who are photographed. I want reassurance that they are not being exploited in any way, for someone else’s gain. For me, it’s an issue of ethics, and it’s implications go far beyond any money or accolades the photographer might gain.

        • @Paul, I totally agree with what you’re saying. But I do think/hope that photography can play a role in bringing people closer together rather than further apart. And the thing is, in order for a photographer to go beyond the shock value, he/she must spend at least some time with the subject, in order to get at things other than the surface conditions.

          I appreciate your bringing it all up–it’s important to think hard about.

          • @TimR,

            Thanks for your reflections. What you said about spending time with your subject is quite true. It was nice to discuss things with you and Aaron.

            “I myself have always stood in the awe of the camera. I recognize it for the instrument it is, part Stradivarius, part scalpel.” – Irving Penn

  3. The composition is eye opening. The subject matter to me is neither titillating nor voyeuristic. I think it explores a life hidden in shadows of the day, overtly existing within the mainstream of life. I don’t think the average person sees it unless it is exposed through the careful orchestration and collaboration between those who live on the fringes of normality and the artist.

    I think there is a time in our life where we do establish a relationship with the socially discarded because they once lived as we do. They experience an event that they never recovered from emotionally and slide into a land of overt darkness. Their existence is a life of almost living dead. It is a reality barely digestible by the average person. They turn away warily avoiding discomfort, when they should turn and embrace it. JMHO.

  4. Jim Doyers

    Oh boy another “artist”. Gee we should all listen up.


    Have fun, but you’re making too much of what you bring to the “art” world.

    One more reason NOT to move to NYC.

  5. I couldn’t help but think of the Quay Bros. while looking at this work. Though I find the images interesting I also find it curious in regard to his comments regarding going deeper into one’s self. In my world going deeper into one’s self has nothing to do with the darkness of the mind. It has to do with the inner beauty of one’s soul. Guess that’s the difference between the two.