Shadow Chamber

Roger Ballen


Roger Ballen was born in New York in 1950 and has spent the last thirty years in South Africa. Beginning by documenting the small dorps or villages of rural South Africa, Roger Ballen’s photography moved on in the late 1980s to focus on their inhabitants. By the mid-1990s his principal subjects were members of the white underclass of South Africa, a marginalized group that is rarely thought to exist. Ballen’s images of these disaffiliated people moved into a more collaborative, constructed effort between subject and photographer. Previously his pictures, however troubling, fell firmly into the category of documentary photography.

Shadow Chamber, published by Phaidon Press in 2005, focuses on the interactions between the people, animals and/or objects inhabiting Ballen’s uniquely built image space. His images are painterly and sculptural in ways not immediately associated with photographs. References to the stage sets and characters of Beckett plays and to the painted cages and fleshy torments of Francis Bacon paintings abound in Ballen’s own claustrophobic, psychologically charged scenes. Sebastian Smee has written that “Ballen’s photographs confront us with things we fear and things we cherish, then sow confusion between the two.”