Hercules Papaioannou: Roger Ballen’s work seems to be an investigation of the self

Hercules Papaioannou, curator of the Roger Ballen’s exhibition «Shadows of the mind» in MUSEUM OF PHOTOGRAPHY THESSALONIKI, kindly answered my questions.

Hercules Papaioannou: Roger Ballen’s  work seems to be an investigation of the self

Hercules Papaioannou: Roger Ballen’s work seems to be an investigation of the self

— The modern world is constantly generating millions and billions of images. Most of them are simple and «household». Can a modern viewer understand and explore the complex and ambiguous photographs of Roger Ballen?

— If you examine the history of photography you will see that even in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th-century photography has always been a mass medium. That means millions of photographs distributed through magazines, exhibitions, newspapers, posters.

Of course today the flow is much bigger, but there is always open space for an original view of an artist like Roger Ballen. What is challenging about the work of Roger is the originality of the approach and his aesthetic, the way investigation of the world becomes an investigation of the self. So, obviously, for people who have been affiliated largely only with Facebook images, it’s more complicated to relate to Rogers work but I think there’s a large audience for his work and in the recent opening of his exhibition in Thessaloniki we had the opportunity to talk with people with very different backgrounds, artistic and non-artistic, and all of them were deeply intrigued, arrested by the show.

In that sense, one can say that photography has always been two-sided, a mass medium, and an art that can profoundly touch the audience.

— What does the exhibition of Roger Ballen give to residents of Thessaloniki?

— Thessaloniki is a city that has a good tradition in photography. We are organizing an international festival that has already completed a cycle of 30 years. It started in 1988, so the audience is a bit accustomed to viewing exhibitions historical or contemporary, international or Greek, classic or unusual. Roger’s exhibition is not the first one in Thessaloniki. His work has been exhibited here 20 years ago in 2000 at our festival and in that exhibition, he was awarded the first prize of the festival. So I figure he has good memories from his previous presence here.

Now, in the period from 2000 till 2020, his work progressed in a different path than the one he was following before. It is with great pleasure that we present to the audience of the city and the country a substantial body of work presenting Roger Ballen as an artist from the mid-80s until 2016-17 and we hope that people can understand better this way, how his ideas and aesthetics evolved.

How he evolved from the straighter and more social documentary kind of work into a much more personal art that explored the personal and collective unconscious.

— Two years ago, in Yekaterinburg, in Russia, an exhibition and a masterclass of Roger Ballen took place. At the masterclass, he said that in his works there will no longer be direct images of people. What do you think of this evolution?

—I think that depicting people in photographs makes them sometimes obvious. To work with objects, spaces, paintings, and drawings as Roger usually does means to also be more metaphorical, more symbolic, more poetic. But if you take out his last series “The Theatre of Apparitions” from a total of seven series represented in the show, in all other series there are human beings involved in the photographs. Of course, after around 2000 people did not show up with their full identity, full face. They were hidden. What one can see is maybe a hand, or the back of a head. I think what Roger does is very deeply involved with the human element even when the human element is not openly present in the photographs.

— Roger Ballen recently has been working closely not only with photography but also with video. How do you evaluate this direction of his work?

— It is true that photography and video have come very close. All contemporary cameras are equipped for both media, for photography and video of the highest quality. So it’s very easy for an artist today to move from one medium to the other. I think that Roger is a special case at least if one thinks the fact that his work has become all the more complicated during the years. He started by accommodating drawings in his works (drawings on the walls) and then that element became more intense, the drawings and paintings, and then these drawings and paintings were spread in the objects of the room so it all became more sculptural and there was performativity engaged. People were performing things in front of the lens and then came the video, so it’s not simply about using the video, it’s about the way he sees his work becoming more complex over the years.

— How would you describe the aesthetics of Roger Ballen?

— One thing is what I’ve tried to explain in a previous question, that is the way he incorporates in his work other media in a clever and meaningful way. The other thing that makes his work in my opinion very special is that despite the fact that he is taking photographs of people and places and rooms, all his work seems to be an investigation of the self. It all starts there anyway, every work in a way is also a self-portrait, but with Roger’s work one has the intense feeling of this search.

This is what he means by asking, in a Samuel Beckett manner, “Who am I”, “Where am I going to”, “What is this world about”? So I think he’s one of the artists who understand that very deeply, that no matter what we are taking photographs of we are always talking about ourselves, about who we are and what is hidden inside our own personal “room”. So I think that this interplay between the internal and the external, is what makes his work very particular and also the fact that some of his photographs engage the viewer without having anything beautiful story to tell, they are raw, spontaneous to an extent, but resonate with our deeper existential need to understand who we are and how do we proceed with ourselves through the contemporary society at a time when everything runs so fast that people have no time left to face themselves and ask questions such as these. So if one takes all these elements into consideration I think that he or she can understand that it’s a very complex work, looking at times very simple, and that is not easy to achieve.

— Roger Ballen filmed his iconic shots. Modern «high photography», is it film or digital in perspective?

— That’s a difficult question to ask from one point and also easy from another point. Photography has always been closely related to technology and technology has always defined what photography is. If the industry now decides to stop producing films then photographers will all go digital. So it’s not just about what a photographer is selecting to do, to the extent that photographers do not produce their own materials and they are dependent on that to the industry. But I think that despite the fact that we are in the digital era and almost all photographers are feeling very comfortably using the digital media and processing their own work, not having to work with chemicals and labs, there are many photographers and Roger is one of them that still prefer to do some personal work with film. I think it has to do with the quality of the analog materials, especially if you’re working with medium or large format, it has to do with the quality of the tonality and the lines and of the forms. So many photographers shoot professional work with digital media but when it comes to their personal work then you might see them turning to film. So I would like to think that in the next years we will have the luxury to select one or the other and that the film industry will not discontinue the related materials. I am shooting film myself, black and white film.

So I wouldn’t like to find myself without film to shoot but then again who knows. As I said, photography is an industry and the art of photography is working at the shadow of this industry.

In Russian: http://photoekb.ru/?p=11788

Короткий URL: https://photoekb.ru/?p=11784

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Написал blackpr в 28.05.2020 | 13:37. Соответствие In English, Интервью. Вы можете перейти к обсуждениям записи RSS 2.0. Вы можете сделать trackback вашей записи

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