Roger Ballen: Enigma

Les Douches la Galerie is pleased to present, for the first time this Fall, a solo show, Enigma, by Roger Ballen, including his early series from the 80s and 90s.
The South African photographer has been exploring the twists and turns of his subconscious for over forty years, creating stagings which invoke the themes of marginality, strangeness, and the relationship between the human and animal worlds.
Internationally acclaimed photographer Roger Ballen, hailing from New York, has carved an indelible niche in the world of contemporary art with his unconventional and thought-provoking work. Ballen’s career has been shaped by a fusion of academic pursuits and a profound early interest in probing the boundaries of social and mental landscapes.
A graduate of the University of Berkeley in California, Ballen’s academic background in psychology laid the initial groundwork for his artistic explorations. It was during the summer of 1972 that Ballen embarked on a transformative journey into the world of theater, attending a course at Berkeley taught by Professor Oliver. This course became a catalyst for his lifelong fascination with the theater of the absurd and the works of iconic playwrights such as Beckett, Pinter, and Ionesco.
Immersing himself in the theater, Ballen devoured a play each day for nearly a month, gaining a profound understanding of dramatic arts that would significantly influence his future artistic endeavors. His exposure to the surreal and unconventional narratives of these playwrights left an indelible mark on his creative sensibilities.
Simultaneously, during the same pivotal summer, Ballen pursued a filmmaking course in San Francisco. It was here that he directed his first film, “Ill Wind” (1972). This cinematic venture was intrinsically linked to his burgeoning interest in theater and the absurd. The film encapsulated the journey of a character reminiscent of Beckett’s protagonists, meandering through life’s labyrinthine passages with an air of habit and rootlessness.
Ballen’s early experiences in psychology, theater, and filmmaking coalesced into a unique artistic perspective, one that would define his remarkable career as a photographer. This artistic journey, spanning several decades, transcends the conventional boundaries of fine art photography. It is characterized by an unwavering commitment to exploring the enigmatic fringes of society and delving into the intricacies of the human psyche.
Roger Ballen’s distinctive oeuvre challenges artistic conventions and invites viewers to confront the surreal, the marginalized, and the profound. His work serves as a testament to the enduring influence of early academic pursuits and the power of artistic exploration in shaping a remarkable career.
Roger Ballen’s exhibition will be on display at Les Douches la Galerie in Paris from September 22 to November 18, 2023. The curators for this exhibition are Françoise Morin and Philippe Séclier.

A portrait of Roger Ballen by Marguerite Rossouw

About the Author

Born in the US and based in Johannesburg, South Africa, Roger Ballen is one of the most important photographers of his generation. He has published over 25 books internationally and has collections in the most prominent museums in the world. In 2022, Thames and Hudson published his book Ballenesque, Roger Ballen: – A Retrospective, a major survey of his collected works. His oeuvre, which spans five decades, began with the documentary photography field but evolved into the creation of distinctive fictionalized realms that also integrate the mediums of film, installation, theatre, sculpture, painting, and drawing. Ballen describes his works as “existential psychodramas” that touch the subconscious mind and evoke the underbelly of the human condition. They aim to break through the repressed thoughts and feelings by engaging him in themes of chaos and order, madness or unruly states of being, the human relationship to the animal world, life and death, universal archetypes of the psyche and experiences of otherness. Through his unique, complex visual language, and universal and profound themes, the artist has made a lasting contribution to the field of art. Ballen has also been the creator of several acclaimed and exhibited short films that dovetail with his photographic series. In 2022, he was one of the artists that represented South Africa at the Venice Biennale of Art. He is also the founder and executive director of the Inside Out Centre for the Arts in Johannesburg, which opened to the public in March 2023. The Centre aims to promote an awareness of African related issues through exhibitions and educational programmes. Its first show, entitled End of the Game, explores the decimation of wildlife in Africa both through historical artifacts and Ballen’s photographs and installations.


Roger Ballen: Enigma
from September 22 to November 18, 2023
Les Douches la Galerie – Paris – France

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