Roger Ballen at Istanbul Modern

I took my sons to see this exhibition as we were feeling some cabin fever with the snow days.  I really enjoyed it but one of my sons said it ‘made him feel weird.’ I chalk this up to Ballen’s own word, saying his work is ‘Bellenesque.’ There is definitely a ‘weird’ sense to these images, but I thought they were really interesting and look into the lives of rural people and their relationship with animals. Let me illustrate with some shots of his work:

Ratman, 2000 Roger Ballen
Ratman, 2000
Roger Ballen
Puppy Between Feet, 1999 Roger Ballen
Puppy Between Feet, 1999
Roger Ballen
Brian with Pet Pig, 1998 Roger Ballen
Brian with Pet Pig, 1998
Roger Ballen

It is true that his images conjure other photographers like Arbus and Evans, but he puts his own touch on them that make them unique I think. It has almost Tum Burton feel to some of them as seen in the image below:

Roger Ballen
Roger Ballen

By placing the animals where he does it gives a whimsical feel to these documentary like photographs.  Especially the rats…this exhibition had a number of photographs with rats in them. But he juxtaposes the mostly sweet looking animals with people who seem to have lives of poverty and despair. I am never sure about this.  Is this exploitation?  Like with Salgado’s work, I ask myself, what has the photographer shed light on with this?  With Salgado’s work, he sheds light on the plight of people living in poverty, but I am not sure about these images.  I suppose the context of the country would need to be considered as well.  I am not familiar with the context of rural South Africa but the images do have me thinking and in some way, feeling empathy with the subjects, so he has created something quite engaging.



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