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One Artist  |  Two Cities  |  Two Exhibitions

On view at the Southeast Museum of Photography and Snap! Space Contemporary

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 7, 7:00 - 10:00 p.m.
Exhibition Opening Night in presence of the Artist
Snap! Space Contemporary, Orlando, Florida
1013 E. Colonial Dr. Orlando, FL 32803

Exhibition runs from October 7 - December 12, 2016
Curated by Patrick & Holly Kahn, Snap! Space

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 8, 5:00 - 7:00 p.m.
Artist Talk, Book Signing, and Exhibition Reception
Southeast Museum of Photography

1200 W. International Speedway Blvd., Daytona Beach, FL 32114

Exhibition runs from September 27 - December 12, 2016
Curated by Steven Benson, Daytona State College Professor of Photography

distorted view of hands against graffit circle with distorted face

“The mind is like a house and the house is like the mind. One can move from the basement to the attic by climbing stairs in the house or by a corresponding state whereby one moves from the deeper untouched consciousness to a place that is linked with the ethereal."

—Roger Ballen

  Mimicry, 2005
From the series: Boarding House


This retrospective exhibition spans over 40 years of image making and leads us through many incarnations of thought and process by one of the most influential and important photographic artists of the 21st century.  The photography, installations and videos of Roger Ballen have been shown in important institutions throughout the world and he is represented in many Museum Collections such as Biblioteque Nationale, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; Tate Modern, London, UK, Museum Folkswang, Essen, Germany and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA. 

Born in New York City in 1950, Roger is the son of Adrienne Ballen, who worked with the Magnum photography agency in the 1960’s and later set up Photography House, which was considered one of the first photography galleries in the world.  During these formative years, he was surrounded by photography greats such as Edward Steichen, Edward Weston and Andre Kertesz, before going on to study Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley.

Ballen then spent five years traveling around the globe, from Africa to Greece, Nepal and Indonesia and completed his first photography book Boyhood, an exploration of the meaning of boyhood across multiple cultures.  He also developed an interest in geology and the landscape, and returned to the U.S. to obtain a PhD in Mineral Economics and in 1982, travelled to Johannesburg, South Africa and established a lucrative career as a geologist and mining entrepreneur.

In the 1980’s, while concurrently working as a geologist, Ballen began using photography to create a personal document of his surroundings in the rural countryside villages of South Africa known as ‘dorps’.  During this time he developed a unique vision toward little-known corners and artifacts, trading stores, old houses and local populations, revealing the layered essence of these places.


As Ballen began knocking on doors and interacting with residents, his focus shifted to documentary portraiture, and by the early 1990’s these intense yet simple portraits formed the basis for the series, Platteland.  The subjects in this body of work were isolated rural whites, scarred by history in the process of losing the privileges of apartheid which had provided them livelihoods and sustained their identity for a generation.  When published in 1994, this shocking and controversial series launched Ballen’s work into the public’s eye in its depiction of a marginalized, white working class that made up parts of rural South Africa. 

  Portrait of twins with accentuated features disheveled hair and stained clothes
Dresie and Casie, Twins, Western Transvaal, 1993
From the series: Platteland

Over time, the line between document and fiction in Ballen’s imagery began to blur, and the people in his photographs became performers instead of subjects.  This work, from the series Outland (2001) was more of a joint effort between photographer and subject, revealing interactions between people, animals, and objects that were both psychologically and sociologically charged, allowing his work to move from the observational to the theatrical, with images teetering between playful and downright bizarre. [click to view video]

In Outland and his later series Shadow Chamber (2005), texture, composition and an assortment of both objects and animals increasingly become part of the frame, allowing seemingly incompatible objects to coexist comfortably with a sense of authenticity. To the uninitiated, the assortment of objects may seem arbitrary but upon closer inspection one can discern Ballen's ability to bring out the interrelationship between the different objects, the people, their forms and arrangement as well as their metaphysical and emotive qualities. The series Shadow Chamber in particular demonstrates how space, volume and atmosphere are manipulated to create an eerie and surreal world.

Ballen's characters act out dark and discomfiting tableaux, providing images which are exciting and disturbing in equal measure. One is forced to wonder whether they are exploited victims, colluding directly in their own ridicule, or newly empowered and active participants within the drama of their representation.   – Peter Weiermair

Ballen continues to build on these qualities in Boarding House (2009) and Asylum of the Birds, as his imagery becomes almost exclusively painterly and sculptural. In Boarding House, Ballen creates a space of transient residence, of comings and goings, of people sheltered in a place they are using for their immediate survival. Basic and fundamental, the structure is furnished with objects necessary for an elementary existence, decorated with evocative drawings, and littered throughout with animals. Remnants function there as physical symbols of events that have occurred in the space; broken pieces of a functional reality exist as the leftovers of scenarios that have been played out there. The altered sense of place of this temporary abode creates a sense of alienation, which acts as a jumping off point for the imagination to run wild.


In Asylum of the Birds, Ballen’s painterly influences become even more apparent as he positions himself at a point somewhere between Surrealism and Art Brut. Photographed entirely within the confines of a house in suburban Johannesburg , Ballen presents an environment richly layered with graffiti, drawings, and found objects, in which the human and the avian perform within a sculptural and decorated theatrical interior that Ballen creates and orchestrates. The resulting images are painterly, complex and surreal. People are now often absent altogether; replaced by photographs of people used as props, by doll or dummy parts or where they do appear it’s as disembodied hands, feet and mouths poking disturbingly through walls and pieces of rag. The often improvised scenarios are completed by the unpredictable behavior of the animals which appear snapped in an instant of observation. Ballen has invented a new hybrid aesthetic in these works but one still rooted firmly in photography. [Click to view video]

birds in cubes, child with chalk, face covered by cardboard drawing; faces drawn on walls behind subject
  Artist, 2013
From the series: Asylum of the Birds

With his most recent body of work, The Theatre of Apparitions, Ballen recedes further into the mind, creating imagery that does not refer to the outside world in any way.  Initially inspired by the drawings and marks people make on their environment, Ballen experiments with spray paints on glass and then “drawing on” or removing the paint with a sharp object to let natural light through. The resulting images are like prehistoric cave-paintings: the black, dimensionless spaces on the glass are canvases onto which Ballen carves his thoughts and emotions.

Despite the range of subjects and approaches that Ballen has pursued, a sense of continuity is maintained by a number of visual 'threads' and graphic elements such as electric wires that can be traced from his latest work back to his earliest photographs in the small towns of South Africa.  Ballen has crafted himself an inimitable niche in the field of photography, and his images and videos, without question, confront the viewer and challenge them to join him on a journey into their own minds as he explores the deeper recesses of his own.

For more information, visit

Click here to view the music video I Fink U Freeky that Roger Ballen directed for South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord.

Large bundle of wires over a mans face abstracted face
Twirling Wires, 2001
From the series: Shadow Chamber
Divided Self, 2007
From the series: The Theatre of Apparitions

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The Southeast Museum of Photography is a service of Daytona State College
1200 W. International Speedway Blvd. (Building 1200) Daytona Beach, FL, 32114, (386) 506-4475
Free Admission & Parking

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Exhibitions and programs at the Southeast Museum of Photography are supported in part by Daytona State College, Volusia ECHO and the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on the Arts.

Daytona State College prohibits discrimination and assures equal opportunity in employment and education services to all individuals without regard to age, ancestry, belief, color, disability, ethnicity, genetic information, gender, marital status, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sex, and veteran status. For more details, read our Equal Opportunity Statement or contact: Lonnie Thompson, Chair of the Equity Committee at 386-506-3403 or 1200 W. International Speedway Blvd., Daytona Beach, Fl. 32114.