Dresie and Casie wikihow

STAGING REALITY

TEXT: ANDREJ KLAHN

To put it in the language of those who were in charge of the country at the time Roger Ballen was walking through the South African villages with his camera: This is how white negroes live. In the 1980s and 1990s, Ballen, who was born in New York in 1950, traveled through the fringes of a country marked by apartheid in order to take photos in the »Dorps«, small communities, and on the »Platteland«. There he met people who did not fit in with the Boers' self-image, but who, historically speaking, belonged to the self-proclaimed master race: day laborers, servants or miners.

The paint is peeling from the rickety door that leads into the »Dorps«, recorded in 1983 in »Hopetown« of all places, but it is stable enough to keep out hope. A row of chairs with cracked cushions in front of a dirty corrugated iron wall, an old man who is bent over in front of a wall with pin-ups, the promise of vitality seeming to weigh heavily on his hunched shoulders - that's how bleak the Dorps are Viewer.

But it is the twins Dresie and Casie that Ballen took in 1993 in the west of the Transvaal province for the "Platteland" series, who to this day are exemplary of the black and white ruthlessness with which the photographer, who has lived in South Africa since 1981, is reminiscent of Diane Arbus Meet the portrayed - as unsentimental as Walker Evans had documented the poverty of American farm workers half a century before him. Two disproportionate faces, large, protruding ears, necks that are much too wide with narrow heads resting on them, staring glances with distraught hostility, a splattered shirt. The effect of this and other pictures is immediate and strong, but Ballen's pictures are not aimed at superficial shocks. That is why the viewer is well advised to ask himself what makes him so uncomfortable at times. Is it the pleasure in the supposedly shameless indiscretion? Or the shudder at the latent aggressiveness that can be felt in many of the recordings?

The fact that the illustrated book »Platteland« was so critically discussed in Ballen's adopted country of South Africa in 1994, despite international recognition, the photographer attributes to the historical upheaval in which the country was at that time. In the year in which "Platteland" was published, the first free elections were held, from which the "African National Congress" was to emerge victorious and Nelson Mandel as president. The white population was deeply insecure, and the pictures of the neglected that Ballen brought back from his travels across the "Platteland" were not meant to reassure them.

Ballen himself does not want his recordings from the 1980s and early 1990s to be misunderstood as political comments at the moment. In the tradition of a South African documentary photography, which used the camera as a weapon in the fight against the apartheid regime, he does not locate himself. Later series such as “Outland” (2001), “Shadow Chamber” (2005) and “Boarding House” (2008) alternate more clearly between documentation and surreal staging; they tell stories that can hardly be deciphered, mysterious and eerie.

Roger Ballen. Photographs 1969–2009; until June 17, 2012 at MartA Herford. www.marta-herford.de