Art

Zeitz MOCAA wing named after Roger Ballen

Famed photographer Roger Ballen, who has been producing dark portraits of his adoptive country for 36 years, has been honoured by Cape Town's newest art museum

24 September 2017 - 00:00 By Tymon Smith

At 67, Roger Ballen, the US-born photographer who has spent 36 years in South Africa, shows no signs of slowing down, with the launch of a new book, Ballenesque, and the opening yesterday of the photographic wing named after him at the Zeitz MOCAA gallery in Cape Town.
For Ballen, this is further proof that, as far as he can see, "subject to sickness or injury, there will be only one point in my life when I stop and you know when that'll be".
Ballen's dedication to the Zeitz of "one signed edition of all work produced from 1968 to 1982, and one signed edition of all works produced from now until the artist's death", is indicative of his growing concern about the legacy of his work.As he points out: "Nearly all my pictures have been taken in South Africa. What's the point of having your pictures end up in some Ivy League university with thousands of other objects worth billions of dollars? I hope to play a reasonable and formative role in setting up this centre that can make some contribution to photography in Africa."
For the opening of the Roger Ballen Foundation Centre for Photography, he created a three-room installation that focuses less on his photographs than on the presentation of a space in which he hopes that, "when you walk into the room, you feel like it's a place in which Roger Ballen works and where his pictures come out of".
The book, which presents the most comprehensive retrospective of all of his work, from his formative years in the US through to the present day, provides Ballen with an opportunity to have his own say about his process.Here we see early childhood pictures of Ballen and his mother, Adrienne, who worked for the Magnum photo agency, where she befriended many of the most renowned photographers of the era. She also hung their work in her house, allowing the young Ballen to "learn early what made a good photograph ... and when you learn something early it's like learning a language at five years old - you really don't forget it".
When his mother died, in 1973, Ballen, who had been a student at the University of California, Berkeley, and had been taking photos of the counterculture, found himself at an emotional nadir, which he attempted to overcome by locking himself up "in this awful apartment in New York for about four or five months and producing about 30 paintings" - some of which are in the book, and which he now sees "were a precursor or foundation of what I started to do later - strange and enigmatic, psychological".Here also are the stories of some of his best-known photos and collaborations - the contact sheets for Platteland's infamous Dresie and Casie, Twins, Western Transvaal 1993, the relationships he still maintains with the outsider cast of Outland and The Boarding House and his collaboration with Die Antwoord for the video of I Fink U Freeky, which has been viewed more than 100 million times on YouTube.Ballen ponders that perhaps "the only real difference between an artist and everybody else is that the art has more of a capability of having life beyond your life - your building may collapse or your law firm may go under but art, by its very nature, has the ability to transcend time".
WATCH Roger Ballen on his collaboration with Die Antwoord and why he donated his work to the Zeitz MOCAA

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