A photographer for almost 50 years, despite having only embarked on his professional trajectory in 1994, the American Roger Ballen (New York, 1950) has explored a series of photographic themes and genres. They have gradually weaved the guiding line for his most distinct aesthetic and methodological research, which have been decisive in establishing him as one of the most respected photographers of his generation.
The self-taught Ballen initially took an interest in street photography, the objects of his work ranging from fortuitous situations to his first thematic proposition, boyhood. In 1982, upon moving to South Africa - where he lives to this day - he began documenting the vernacular architecture of the country's rural areas and soon moved from the facades to inside the homes. His focus then shifted from the particular features of these intimate spaces onto the inhabitants themselves. From 1995 onwards, starting with the Outland series, Ballen began to develop images based on Jungian theories, resulting in what would be the principal transformation in his work. He left the realm of documentary photography and concentrated on creating hybrid pictures, merging reality and fiction, the documental and the theatrical, the "simple" portrait and the tableau.
Ballen's diverse work has maintained a unity in being at once associated to the aesthetic of the grotesque and infused with a certain surreality. The images are woven by the unique choice of the subjects, the objects and the space in which they are photographed, by the strange gestures, the sui generis relationship between the elements (some recurring, like wires, rudimentary drawings on the wall, smears and smudges, real or fictional creatures, masks, parts of dolls, etc.), and the frequently evoked proximity between humankind and animality. Whereas for Ballen, his images represent firstly states of mind and what is primitive in us, they can also be understood as comments on the discords of contemporary society.
Roger Ballen: transfigurations, photographs 1968-2012, the first retrospective exhibition of Ballen's work in Latin America, brings a selection of photographs from eight series, spanning from his early works to his latest. Reflecting on the evolution of this oeuvre - essentially guided by the search for self-knowledge - the exhibition intends to offer a journey through real and symbolic transfigurations.
© 2015 Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo