Roger Ballen

Bedroom of a Railway Worker, De Aar

1984, printed 2013

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Roger Ballen born 1950
Medium
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Dimensions
Image: 357 x 362 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by Hyundai Card 2016
Reference
P81269

Summary

This is one of a number of photographs in Tate’s collection from Roger Ballen’s series Dorps. Ballen worked on the series between 1983 and 1986. He began it while working as a geologist in South Africa, a job which took him across the country to nearly every small town and village. These are known by the term dorps in Afrikaans, which is the source of the series title. Ballen started photographing white residents and their homes in rural South Africa in a documentary mode, before developing a more staged style in the late 1990s (see, for example, works from the later series Outland 1995–2000, Tate P20458P20472 and P81287). In each of the photographs in the Dorps series Ballen sought to capture the lasting aesthetic quality of the little-known places he visited. The focus is firmly architectural and the series includes photographs of a range of private and public spaces: the exteriors of abandoned houses and shops, hotel facades and church squares, and domestic and commercial interiors. In the occasional portrait Ballen presented his subjects, usually working class people, facing forward, looking directly into the camera. Ballen has described the series as ‘a nostalgia for a distant unattainable splendour’ (Roger Ballen, ‘Dorps: Small Towns of South Africa’, 1986, reproduced at http://expositions.bnf.fr/ballen/us/arret/1/dorps.htm, accessed 26 May 2015).

Ballen was born in New York. He first visited South Africa in the 1970s and has lived there ever since, building a career as one of the country’s best-known photographers. He works only in black and white and uses a square format camera, in keeping with his desire for all parts of the picture to have an equal purpose. The photographs from the series Dorps exist in an edition of thirty-five and Tate’s copies, acquired directly from the artist, are modern prints dating from between 2000 and 2013, and are various numbers in the edition.

Further reading
Chas Bowie, ‘Interview: A Conversation with Roger Ballen’, Seesaw Magazine, 2007, http://www.seesawmagazine.com/ballenpages/balleninterview.html, accessed 26 May 2015.
Roger Ballen, Dorps: The Small Towns of South Africa, Pretoria 2010.

Kerryn Greenberg
September 2013, updated March 2015

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