Roger Ballen

John and Roommate

1998, printed 2000

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Roger Ballen born 1950
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Image: 360 × 363 mm
Presented by the artist 2015


This is one of a number of photographs in Tate’s collection from Roger Ballen’s series Outland. Ballen worked on the series between 1995 and 2000. He began taking photographs while working as a geologist in South Africa, a job which took him to nearly every small town and village across the country. Initially focusing primarily on the buildings and architectural spaces of the places he visited (see his early series Dorps 1983–6, Tate P81267P81286), in the late 1980s and early 1990s he began to focus instead on the inhabitants of South Africa, documenting poor white communities living on the fringes of society. While previously his photographs had adopted a more documentary style, with Outland his work became more staged and began to move into the realm of psychological portraiture.

In Outland the images are largely stripped of any signs and symbols that identify the location and Ballen’s subjects are presented in a series of often disturbing tableaux. Individuals are presented striking awkward or unusual poses, either alone or in small groups. Some of the subjects appear mentally unstable, in-bred or malnourished and the images make uncomfortable viewing, existing somewhere between order and chaos.

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 series Outland was produced in an edition of thirty-five and Tate’s copies, acquired directly from the artist, are predominantly modern prints, with the exception of Posing 1995, printed 1999, Boys with Baby Carriage 1997, printed 1999, John and Roommate 1998, printed 2000, Man with Back to Viewer 1998, Gary 1998, Cat Catcher 1998, Gardener Sitting on Woman’s Bed 1999, printed 2001, Les Hammering into Wall 2000 and Man, Dog and Cardboard Mask 2000, which are all vintage prints.

Further reading
Roger Ballen, Outland, London 2001.
Chas Bowie, ‘Interview: A Conversation with Roger Ballen’, Seesaw Magazine, 2007,, accessed 26 May 2015.

Kerryn Greenberg
September 2013, updated March 2015

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