Interviewed in Zagreb on 3 September 2015
One of the most sought after artists of today, Roger Ballen visited this year’s International Photography Festival Organ vida (Eye Organ) in Zagreb in order to introduce the reissue of his book of photography Outland with a lecture about his own photographs. The effect of his works on attentive observers can probably be compared with that which Francisco Goya provoked when he published his Los Caprichos at the end of 18th century. Similar to Goya, motifs recorded by Ballen with the photographic lenses include anxiety, violence, ambivalence of sinister impulses, while at the same time a human message is hidden inside about understanding of typically human vices, as well as virtues. In his most recent works, imagination and reality are interwoven and he inserts found objects, his own drawings, collages and sculptures in his photography, thus creating unique and remarkable works that resist unambiguous interpretation.
ORIS: It is possible to compare your formal education as a geologist and your gift to reach and take a look into the human psyche, but also, as you claim, a certain insight into animals and all living creatures. As I understood, you are reaching for an inner secret life that you mediate through photography?
Ballen: Since the early days, I’ve been taking pictures for nearly fifty years now, my process was fundamentally psychological. Therefore, I never considered myself a social, political, or cultural photographer. It has always been about exploring the psyche of the human condition and I guess of the living planet, as well as trying to come to terms with my identity. I think the nature of my photography is fundamentally not only psychological, but existential. I worked as a geologist for nearly thirty years all over Africa and I guess that has had some influence on my photography.