Playpen is a traveling exhibition originally conceptualized by Christina Naurattel, North West University Gallery. This exhibition draws from a spectrum of Roger Ballen’s previous series’, Boyhood, Platteland, Outland, Shadow Chamber, and Boarding House, as well as from a new body of work, Asylum.
Playpen draws from a spectrum of Roger Ballen’s previous series’, Boyhood, Platteland, Outland, Shadow Chamber, and Boarding House, as well as from a new body of work, Asylum. Comprising both recognizable and rarely seen photographs, Playpen seeks to thematically explore Ballen’s images of children and their abandoned toys, imaginative games, drawings and surrounding space.
Ballen has been photographing children since the 1970’s, appreciating children’s spontaneity, their ability to improvise and their treatment of space as a playground. Children’s play invents new and different spaces, which also mirror the world around them. Similarly, the composition of Ballen’s surreal images usher the viewer into an imaginary world in which the distinction between what is real and what merely appears to be, is blurred.
Though Ballen’s images are consistently black and white photographs in square format, his work has developed from a photo-journalistic style into a combination of photography, theatrical performance, drawing and sculpture. Playing with notions of fiction and fact, Ballen creates complex and multi-layered compositions in which tone, texture, line and form are crucial. For Ballen, “the unpredictable relationships between the animals, children, the drawings, objects and the space, create the meaning behind my work”.
‘Playpen’, as the title of the exhibition, implies a small portable enclosure in which a small child can play safely. Yet, the photographs have an unnerving quality, often highlighting disintegration, dilapidation and the passage of time. Ballen uses photography to explore the so-called dark side of the human psyche, creating immersive and gripping scenes. There is a mystery to the photographs, leading them to linger in the mind of the viewer. As Ballen states, “the best pictures are the ones you don’t have words for, the ones that leave you in a state of silence”.
Roger Ballen, born in New York City in 1950, has lived and worked in Johannesburg, South Africa since the 1970’s. Ballen has completed both a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley (1972) and a PHD in Mineral Economics (1981).
Roger Ballen has been shooting black and white film for nearly fifty years, and his photographs have been showcased in some of the most prestigious institutions around the globe; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In addition, Ballen has won many prestigious awards during his career including the Photographer of the Year, Rencontres d’ Arles in 2002 and PhotoEspana Best Photographic Book of the Year in 2001. Ballen has also recently collaborated with the notorious South African group Die Antwoord, for the music video for “I Fink U Freeky”.
Playpen is a traveling exhibition originally conceptualized by Christina Naurattel, North West University Gallery.