The PhotoBook Journal

January 15, 2018

Roger Ballen – Ballenesque: a retrospective

Ballenesque Cover

Artist: Roger Ballen (born New York City & resides Johannesburg, South Africa)

Thames & Hudson, copyright 2017

Introduction: Robert J. C. Young; Essays: Roger Ballen

Text: English

Hard cover with printed dust cover, sewn binding, four-color lithography, index, bibliography, collections, picture credits, printed & bound by Artron, China

Photobook designer: Sarah Praill

Notes: This massive book is indeed an extensive collection of Roger Ballen’s unique oeuvre that he has created over the past forty plus years. What may not be as well known is that this book should be considered equal amounts autobiography for the essays Ballen has written to explain his background and artistic development. Ballen’s work became better known primarily through the publication of his photobooks, thus the four chapters of this retrospective follow that linear sequence of these publications; Boyhood (1979), Drops (1986), Platteland (1994), Outland (2001), Shadow Chambers (2005), Boarding House (2009), Asylum of the Birds (2014), and The Theatre of Apparitions (2016) to name a few.

It is fascinating to observe the artistic progression of Ballen’s work, specifically the inclusion of his drawings that are best defined by discussing his attributes of line, flow, shape and mass in conjunction with his “primitive” sculptures. We can follow the transition of found-art that created a background to construct the social environmental context to eventually becoming the primary expression as the process of photography appears to become more a means of facilitation.

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Ballen philosophically expands on the reasons for his creations which might explain his dark, ambiguous, layered, complex and multi-media oriented photographs, much better than I. In his later works since his Boarding House project, I find that each photograph is so complex and layered that I can spend entire day absorbed in a single image and perhaps the reason for my delay in writing this review. I eventually had to put this book down and write.

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One aspect that I really enjoy about this book is the inclusion of so many of the photographs from each of Ballen’s book projects presented in a way that is similar to reading the referenced book. Although this book is not meant to replace his various books, this retrospective is a very inclusive experience and a great edition to a Ballen collection.

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Roger Ballen’s Ballenesque was selected as one of the editors Interesting Photo Books of 2017 and reviews of the following Ballen books are available on TPBJ; Boarding House, Asylum of the Birds, and The Theatre of Apparitions.

Cheers!

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November 29, 2017

Interesting Photobooks of 2017 (plus a few from 2016)

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Interesting Photobooks of 2017, copyright Douglas Stockdale

As in years past, we have been providing a short list of photobooks we have found interesting, whether it was the photographic content, concept of the project, the book’s design or production qualities; and most interesting when it was a delightful combination of all of these book elements.

For our editorial team selection we limited ourselves to the photobooks we received with time to really evaluate the book object in its entirety. I have readily admitted in the past we do not have access to read and study every photobook that was published during the year, thus our list is not meant to be inclusive as there are a great many other interesting photobooks that were published this year. Our list may not be the “Best” photobooks of 2017, but rather we have selected some of the more interesting photobooks for your consideration. In a couple of cases, we have included books that were published in late 2016 that have come to our attention this year.

We have published commentaries for most of these, which are linked-up. It is our intent to publish commentaries for the remaining photobooks shortly. So in alphabetic order:

Roger Ballen, Ballenesque, Thames & Hudson, 2017, a really interesting retrospective of Ballen’s creative body of work, also The Theatre of Apparitions, Thames & Hudson, 2016 (we did not see this until early this year); An astute personal investigation of the mind against intercultural backgrounds.

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Roger Ballen

 

Paula Bronstein, Afghanistan: Between Hope and Fear, University of Texas Press, 2016; a long term photo-documentary project about the on-going social impact of war in Afghanistan.

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Paula Bronstein

 

Claire Felicie, Only the Sky Remains Untouched, Self-published, 2016; provides an intriguing layered visual design that creatively investigates the concepts of lingering trauma after warfare.

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Claire Felicie

 

Lea Habourdin, Survivalists, Fuego Books, 2017; an intriguing book design that investigates a concept about personal/cultural survival. (Review pending)

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Lea Habourdin

 

Ellen Korth, CHARKOW, Self-published, 2016; presenting difficult parts of a personal history using a very innovative set of books.

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Ellen Korth

 

Andrej Lamut, Nokturno, The Angry Bat, 2017; a dark and moody investigation which provides an interesting environment to explore a diverse range of metaphoric potentials.

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Andrej Lamut

 

Robert Lyons, Pictures From the Next Day, Zatara Press; An introspective project that explores aging, personal relationships and American culture. (Review pending)

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Robert Lyons

 

Tymon Markowski, Flow, Self-published, 2017; a great utilization of a book design that captures the essence of photo-documentary project’s investigation of a region.

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Tymon Markowski

 

Duane Michals, Portraits, Thames & Hudson, 2017; a retrospective of his portrait work in the context of his trademark, if not iconic, creative storytelling.

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Duane Michals

 

Nancy Rexroth, IOWA, University of Texas Press, 2017 (first edition, self-published, 1977); an updated and re-edited edition of this fine art photobook “classic”, which still maintains its artistic vitality. (Review pending)

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Nancy Rexroth

 

Douglas Stockdale, Bluewater Shore, self-published, 2017; (A little bit of personal bias) Exploring American culture and family as well in part for its production merit as it is the first photo book that was printed with a duotone (black & white) digital lithography printing process.

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Cheers!

Douglas & Gerhard

May 12, 2017

Roger Ballen – The Theatre of Apparitions

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Photographer:  Roger Ballen (born in New York City, NY; resides in Johannesburg, South Africa)

Publisher:  Thames & Hudson, London; © 2016

Essays:  Preface by Roger Ballen; introduction by Colin Rhodes

Text:  English

Hardcover with dust jacket, sewn binding; 192 numbered pages; 90 monochrome captioned photographs; printed in China; 17.5×25 cm

 

Notes:

On April 22, 2017, in his keynote address at the annual Photo Independent Exposition (celebrating the Los Angeles Festival of Photography), Roger Ballen said that “everything happens in and with the mind.” Further, in response to a question from the audience regarding the possibility of a photographer exploiting his or her subjects, he further expanded on this theme, expressing his view that we all exploit or make use of others, since we are all programmed to live, and thus as a matter of survival must consume other living matter, be they plants or animals. Leave it to a professional geologist to brazenly uncover that which is hidden, to unearth the earthly as well as the unearthly, the more ethereal forces behind our externalized everyday scenes! The subconscious and the unconscious are powerful forces in the Ballenesque perception of life, guiding our thoughts, emotions, and actions, and he brings them into our visual and emotional awareness.

I consider Ballen the visual Shakespeare of our time, with good measures of Freud and Jung tossed in, especially Jung! He knows the many parts we play externally in the drama of life, but also most especially the archetypal parts within each of us that are struggling and trying to assert themselves, as some of them may wish to be externalized; they hover, cower, act out the most secret of emotions, desires, fears, and drives, and translate them into potential actions in our everyday existence. The shadows know it all… In collaboration with Marguerite Rossouw, Ballen paints and draws these spirits on windows and other panes, then photographs the results, one-of-a-kind and ethereal as works of art, and short-lived except through the photographs and this book, a source of self-discovery and astonishment for those who dare. Inspired originally by such drawings in an abandoned institution, Ballen has moved toward incorporating drawing and painting into his art over the past several years, in this instance to create primeval and primitive effects.

This volume is all black and white, with black backgrounds on all the pages, as shown below, and with only white and simulated shades of gray used for the drawings and paintings. On 192 pages, 90 photographs are reproduced, comprising seven sections, labeled “acts,” true to the title promising theatrical apparitions: persona – burlesque – eros – transmuted – melancholy – fragmentation – ethereal. There is usually only one image per double-page spread, either on the left or on the right, with a short title and the year of creation opposite each image. I am showing a representative image from each section below, in sequence. The image titles are kept short on purpose, since Ballen is of the school of thought that many words are only needed for bad images. Occasionally there is a playful use of language, e.g. “Hold Up” (page 87), third image below. The sum total is a contribution that invites the viewer to engage in introspection against an ancient and transient stage full of surprises, a mirror of our collective internal world, to be examined with some measure of daring and acumen.

A challenging work, full of fascinating encounters.

The PhotoBook previously featured two reviews by Douglas Stockdale of Roger Ballen’s Boarding House and Asylum of the Birds.

Gerhard Clausing

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