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Roger Ballen

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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.
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. 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 125-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 Bazaar/Bizarre” was created in an abandoned shopping centre.
Ballen’s series, The Theatre of Apparitions (2016), is inspired by the sight of these hand-drawn carvings on blacked-out windows in an abandoned women’s prison.
Ballen started to experiment using different spray paints on glass and then ‘drawing on’ or removing the paint with a sharp object to let natural light through. The results have been likened prehistoric cave-paintings: the black, dimensionless spaces on the glass are canvases onto which Ballen has carved his thoughts and emotions. He also released a related animated film, Theatre of Apparitions, which has been nominated for various awards.

The World According to Roger Ballen

Thames & Hudson, 2019

ISBN 978-0500545218

Ballenesque: Roger Ballen: A Retrospective

Thames & Hudson, 2017

ISBN 978-0500519691

Unleashed, Roger Ballen, Hans Lemmen

Kerber Verlag, 2017

ISBN 978-3735603562

The Theatre of Apparitions

Thames & Hudson, 2016

ISBN 978-0500544648

The House Project, Didi Bozzini; Oodee Books

Nazraeli Press, 2016

ISBN 978-0957038974

Roger Ballen / Asger Carlsen - NO JOKE

Morel, 2016

ISBN 978-3945180082

Roger Ballen: Resurrected / Toinen tuleminen

Kerber Art/Serlachius Museot, 2016

ISBN 978-3945180082

The House Project Roger Ballen Didi Bozzini

Oodee Books, 2015

ISBN 978-0957038974

Elemental, Roger Ballen and Adam Ganz

Hotshoe, 2015

ISBN 978-0955746598

Roger Ballen: Outland (2nd Edition)

Phaidon, 2015

ISBN 978-0714868844

The Audience, Roger Ballen

Nazraeli Press, 2014

ISBN 978-1590054147

Roger Ballen - Theater of the Absurd

Pug Oslo, 2014

Asylum of the Birds

Thames & Hudson, 2014

ISBN 978-0500544297

Roger Ballen: Die Antwoord: I Fink You Freeky

Random House Prestel, 2013

ISBN 978-3791348605

Lines, Marks, and Drawings: Through the Lens of Roger Ballen

Prestel Pub, 2013

ISBN 978-3791353159

Roger Ballen – introduction by Dominique Eddé

Photo Poche, 2012

ISBN 978-2330006952

Roger Ballen: Animal Abstraction

Reflex, 2011

ISBN 978-9071848001

Roger Ballen: Photographs 1969-2009

Kerber Verlag, 2010

ISBN 978-3866784628

Roger Ballen; Boarding House

Phaidon Press, 2009

ISBN 978-0714849522

Shadow Chamber – Roger Ballen

Phaidon Press, 2005

ISBN 978-0714847924