“For me the dark side has always been a source of light and energy.”
(Editor: Anne Schroeter)
Roger Ballen zählt zu den bekanntesten Fotografen Südafrikas. In New York geboren und in Johannesburg nun lebend, begann Ballen mit dem dreizehnten Lebensjahr mit der Kunst der Fotografie. Seine Mutter arbeitete für die renommierte Fotoagentur Magnum Photos. Ballen fotografiert jene Begebenheiten, die bei den meisten Betrachtern ein beklemmendes Gefühl auslösen dürften – eine Reflektion in die dunkle Seite der eigenen Psyche. Roger Ballen ist ein Künstler, der sehr viel Anspruch an sich selbst stellt. So ist es nicht verwunderlich, dass dieser Mensch für seine Fotokollektionen meist über fünf Jahre braucht, bis diese in Form eines Bildbandes veröffentlicht werden. “SÜDAFRIKA – Land der Kontraste” ist überaus erfreut, diesen interessanten Top-Fotografen interviewen und darüberhinaus exklusiv einige seiner eindrucksvollen Kunstwerke im Portal abbilden zu dürfen.
2010sdafrika-editorial staff: We would like to welcome on “SÜDAFRIKA – Land der Kontraste” – the German gateway to South Africa – the in New York City born and in Johannesburg living photographer Roger Ballen. You are known for your impressive arts in South Africa and abroad. Why did you start to photograph and what does it mean for you to catch the reality in pictures?
Answer: I bought my first camera when I was thirteen. By that stage, in the early sixties, my mother had been working for Magnum for some years. Through her conversation, and particularly her collecting, I was exposed to the work of many photographers – some of them now considered historically important. In this milieu there was a complete belief in the value of photography; and particularly in its ability to capture and convey meaning in a socio-documentary context.
2010sdafrika-editorial staff: How do you choose your themes? Do you even choose them or do they come “naturally”?
Answer: My themes are multiple and ultimately very difficult to describe in words. Most of my projects take approximately five years to complete and are then published as a book. The projects evolve over time and it is next to impossible to predict the course the images will take.
2010sdafrika-editorial staff: Would you approve, if I say, that your photographs are scary? And if you do, why do you still take them, rather than happy and content photographs?
Answer: I believe that if a person find my images scary then that individual has been affected in a very positive way. The images have penetrated into the ‘shadow side’ the place of the psyche that we are scared to confront, to come to grips with. Most people call it the dark side. For me the dark side has always been a source of light and energy. I often mention to people that one cannot find light without knowing the dark.
2010sdafrika-editorial staff: Which reaction do you expect from people that look at your photographs, especially when they usually have nothing to do with arts or photography, from ordinary working class people?
Answer: It is very difficult to know exactly what anybody else feels. My intentions in taking these images are to better understand myself. I do not take photographs to mimic what other people might experience or to predict how they might react. It is just not possible for me to understand how others will relate to my images.
2010sdafrika-editorial staff: Which messages are you promoting in your photographs?
Answer: As I get older, the meaning of the human condition is rooted in the realization that ‘knowing more is knowing less.’ We are doomed to leave this world without any clue as to why we were here, where we came from, and where we are going. This is a fate of utter marginalization.
2010sdafrika-editorial staff: You have often been accused of exploiting people for your photographs. What would you answer to people who say that?
Answer: I believe that my photographs are more psychological in meaning. The images represent a psychological culture. At the same time they emanate from my own psyche. I have never considered myself a photo journalist or a politically orientated photographer. Many of my images represent a universal sense of marginalization, alienation and the inability to cope with the chaos around us. The reason that these images still have meaning to people who know nothing about South African history is that my viewers feel that an aspect of themselves is being reflected in the image.
2010sdafrika-editorial staff: In 2010, you have been in Berlin. Which impressions do you have collected from Germany and Germans?
Answer: It is always difficult to generalize about a culture. Nevertheless, I have been very impressed with the cultural dynamics of Berlin.
2010sdafrika-editorial staff: Roger Ballen, photographer from Johannesburg, thank you very much for this interview and for providing of your arts!
2010sdafrika-interview with photographer Zanele Muholi: