Roger Ballen – Biography
Photo: A portrait of Roger Ballen – credit Marguerite Rossouw

Roger Ballen has a strong attachment to photography from his early childhood.  Her mother was Adrienne Ballen, the image-editor and partnering member of Magnum Photos Agency, and the founder of one of the first specifically photography focused galleries, the Photography House in New York, where Ballen could meet the most important photographers of the time, and could get to know their images.  Edward Steichen, Bruce Davidson, André Kertész, Elliott Erwitt, Paul Strand, Henri Cartier-Bresson are just but a few names whom had great impact on him, but on his website and in multiple interviews he mentions André Kertész, as the strongest inspiration for his creative work.

1950 He was born in New York, on April 11.

1963 He gets his first camera.

1968 His parents give him a Nikon FTN after his SATs.

1969 This is when he makes his series Woodstock, which is only published in the    New York Times for the 50th anniversary of the festival, in 2019.

1972 After he graduates from the Psychology Department of University of California, Berkeley, he finishes his first movie (II Wind).

1973–78 After the death of his mother, he barks upon a 5-year long travel, he hitchhikes from Cairo to Cape Town, and from Istanbul to New-Guinea. During this trip, he regularly took photographs.

1979 His first book, Boyhood, is published. In the album we see photos of boys, whom Ballen have met while he was trying to relive his own childhood during his travels.

1980 He marries the artist Lynda Moross, whom he met in South Africa.

1981 He obtains His P.H.D. in Mineral Economics at the Colorado School of Mines.

1982 He permanently settles down in Johannesburg, where he was working as a mining entrepreneur until 2010.  

1986 His second book, Drops: Small Towns of South Africa is published. He documented those neglected South African small towns and villages that he encountered during his travels as a mining entrepreneur.  

1991 He started to focus on the poor population of South Africa. On his images he depicts poor white people, and people living on the margins of society.

1994 His third album entitled Platteland: Images from Rural South Africa is published. Susan Sontag described it as the psychological research of “character archetypes” and the “ most astonishing series of portrays in years”.

2000 His album Outland is published, where this psychological research moves from documentarist style into the realm of fiction.

2001 Outland wins the award of Best Photobook of the Year at the Photo España festival.

2002 He wins the Photographer of the Year award at the Rencontres d'Arles festival of photography.

2005 His album Shadow Chamber is published by Phaidon Press, where Ballen focuses on the interactions between the people, animals and objects living in the shadow chamber. His surprising and dubious portrays occupy the gray areas between reality and fiction. With this he creates an eerie and surreal world.

2006 Yolandi Visser- one of the members of the South African band Die Antwoord – contacts Ballen, and suggests collaboration.

2008 He founded the Roger Ballen Fund, to foster photography education in South Africa.

2011 He directed the video clip for Die Antwoord’s song entitled I Fink U Freeky. For that he won multiple awards.

2016 His book, Theatre of Apparitions is published, which was inspired by hand drawn carvings on the blacked-out windows of an abandoned women’s prison. Ballen (in cooperation with his artistic director, Marguerite Rossouw) started using different paint sprays on glass , “drawing” on it , or scraping away the paint from the glass with a sharp tool, so it can let through natural light. These photographs resemble prehistoric cave paintings.  

2017 In September, Thames & Hudson published a monograph with Ballen’s extended commentary, with the title Ballenesque. Roger Ballen: A Retrospective.

2018 His series of colour polaroids was first presented at the stand of Reflex Gallery at Unseen Photo Fair. Following that, from this series a selection of 150 photos were published in the book  Roger Ballen: Polaroids – Volume One (2017).

2018 He founds the Inside Out Center for the Arts, for exhibiting, educating and promoting arts from the African continent. The institution will open for the general public in the Autumn of 2022.

2020 His book Roger the Rat is published. In the series, developed since 2015, he created and documented a half-man half-rat creature, who lives an abandoned life at the margins of society. “The rat is an ordinary animal, but it causes fear, uncertainty and anxiety to Western Men , because it symbolizes chaos.”

2022 He represents South Africa with his project Theatre of Apparitions.

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