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Roger Ballen


Froggy Boy, USA, 1977, Silbergelatine-Abzug getönt mit Selenium, 37 x 25 cm / 12 1/4 x 8 1/4 in
RoBa/F 91
"Childhood (1974 - 2018). Photographs by Roger Ballen"
7. November 2019 - laufend
Vernissage am Freitag, 7. November, 18 - 20 Uhr
Der Künstler ist anwesend.
Signierstunde mit Roger Ballen von 19 - 20 Uhr.

The Galerie Karsten Greve is pleased to present Childhood (1974-2018). Photographs by Roger Ballen. Through forty photographs selected from five different series this exhibition explores the photographer's entire career via the theme of childhood; starting with his first photographs taken in the early 1970s, up to his most recent works in colour. One of the most influential and important photographic artists of the 21st century, Roger Ballen’s photographs span over forty years.  His strange and extreme works confront the viewer and challenge them to come with him on a journey into their own minds as he explores the deeper recesses of his own.
In 1979, after travelling around the world for nearly five years, Roger Ballen published Boyhood, his first book of photographs. In his own words: "Through my memories of boyhood I felt reborn. Interacting with the boys I was photographing, I began to recreate this essential part of myself, something I had long-since forgotten, something that had seemed only a dream for so long. My journey through the world now became a journey to rediscover boyhood.” From that point on, childhood has remained a recurrent subject for the artist. His photographs of young people impart playfulness; a sense of candour that we can feel is on the brink of vanishing; and a longing to capture the essence of a phase in life when everything is experienced through friendships. In the work he is producing as a mature artist, this pure spirit of discovery – of the world, of oneself, of others – has undergone a metamorphosis. This exhibition, the first of its kind, documents the evolution of Roger Ballen’s unique aesthetic through his childhood photographs.   

Roger Ballen was born in New York in 1950 but for over 30 years he has lived and worked in South Africa. His work as a geologist took him out into the countryside and led him to take up his camera and explore the hidden world of small South African towns. At first, he explored the empty streets in the glare of the midday sun but, once he had made the step of knocking on people’s doors, he discovered a world inside these houses which was to have a profound effect on his work. These interiors with their distinctive collections of objects and the occupants within these closed worlds took his unique vision on a path from social critique to the creation of metaphors for the inner mind. After 1994 he no longer looked to the countryside for his subject matter finding it closer to home in Johannesburg. Over the past thirty-five years his distinctive style of photography has evolved using a simple square format in stark and beautiful black and white. In the earlier works in the exhibition his connection to the tradition of documentary photography is clear but through the 1990s he developed a style he describes as ‘documentary fiction’. After 2000 the people he first discovered and documented living on the margins of South African society increasingly became a cast of actors working with Ballen in the series’ Outland (2000, revised in 2015) and Shadow Chamber (2005) collaborating to create powerful psychodramas. The line between fantasy and reality in his subsequent series’ Boarding House (2009) and Asylum of the Birds (2014) became increasingly blurred and in these series, he employed drawings, painting, collage and sculptural techniques to create elaborate sets. There was an absence of people altogether, replaced by photographs of individuals now used as props, by doll or dummy parts or where people did appear it was as disembodied hands, feet and mouths poking disturbingly through walls and pieces of rag. The often-improvised scenarios were now completed by the unpredictable behaviour of animals whose ambiguous behaviour became crucial to the overall meaning of the photographs. In this phase, Ballen invented a new hybrid aesthetic, but one still rooted firmly in black and white photography. In his artistic practice, Ballen has increasingly been won over by the possibilities of integrating photography and drawing. He has expanded his repertoire and extended his visual language. These primitive-looking drawings, produced by the people in his photographs, or by the artist himself, mean that his aesthetics can be likened to Outsider art. That relationship is featured in the exhibition Le monde selon Roger Ballen (The World according to Roger Ballen), that is on until July 2020 at the Halle Saint Pierre in Paris. The artist's first retrospective in France; it highlights not only Roger Ballen's photography, but also his videos and installations. Thames & Hudson published the book in French and English to accompany the show.  His work will take over the entire space for a full year closing in July 2020. By integrating drawing into his photographic and video works, the artist has not only made a lasting contribution to the field of art, but equally has made a powerful commentary about the human condition and its creative potential.
His contribution has not been limited to stills photography and Ballen has been the creator of a number of acclaimed and exhibited short films that dovetail with his photographic series. The collaborative film I Fink You Freeky, created for the cult band Die Antwoord in 2012, has garnered over 140-million hits on YouTube. He has taken his work into the realms of sculpture and installation, at Paris’ Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (2017), Australia’s Sydney College of the Arts (2016) and at the Serlachius Museum in Finland (2015) is to name but a few.  The spectacular installation at Les Rencontres d’Arles 2017, “House of the Ballenesque” was voted as one of the best exhibitions for 2017. In 2018 at the Wiesbaden Biennale, Germany, another installation Roger Ballen's No Exit Revisted was created in an abandoned shopping centre

Born in New York City in 1950, Roger Ballen has lived in South Africa for thirty years, and is one of the most famous photographers of his generation. Son of the Editor-in-Chief at Magnum Photo, Ballen was thirteen when photography caught his attention. In 1972 he graduated from the University of California (Berkeley) with a degree in Psychology, and then with a PhD in Geology in 1982. That same year he moved to Johannesburg, where he has lived and worked ever since. His first book of photography Boyhood was published in the late 1970s, to be followed by others, amongst which were: Dorps (1986); Platteland (1994); Outland (2001); Shadow Chamber (2005), Boarding House (2009), Asylum of the Birds (2014); and Theater of the Apparitions (2016). Recently Thames & Hudson published Ballenesque. Roger Ballen, a Retrospective, and the monograph The world according to Roger Ballen has just been published at the occasion of the retrospective exhibition at the Halle Saint Pierre in Paris. He has received numerous awards, including the Prix des Rencontres internationales de la photographie d'Arles in 2002 and the Art Directors Club Award in 2006. His video I Fink U Freeky is one of the most important music videos of the last decade. Roger Ballen's works belong to the world's most important contemporary art collections, including the Tate Modern and The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, as well as the Maison Européenne de la Photographie and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

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