top of page

“The Body, the Mind, the Space”: Roger Ballen's exhibition

The Sozzani Foundation, established in 2016 by Carla Sozzani and dedicated to the promotion of

culture through photography, fashion, the fine arts, and applied arts, presents the exhibition “The

Body, the Mind, the Space” by Roger Ballen, including fifty photographs from the 1970s to the

present, a video and a site-specific installation. The work of the photographer will be exposed from

the 9 th of June to the 8 th of September 2019 in 10, Corso Como in Milan. The opening event

happened on the last 8 th of June and the artist was also present and he signed the copies of his

monography “Ballenesque, Roger Ballen: a Retrospective”, published in 2017 by Thames & Hudson. The exhibit will be open to the public every day from 10.30 am to 7.30 pm, except for

Wednesdays and Thursdays, when the works will be visible until 9 pm. | photo by Roger Ballen

Roger Ballen is one of the most relevant and original contemporary photographers, famous for

revealing the invisible with often disturbing images, suspended in a space between painting,

drawing, installation and photography. Roger Ballen was born in New York in 1950 but has been

living and working in South Africa for over thirty years. He graduated in Psychology at the

University of California at Berkeley, and then he began traveling and crossed Asia and Africa - by

land – overland. In 1981 he completed a doctorate in Mineral Economics at the Colorado School of

Mines, then he moved to Johannesburg as a consultant in search of new mineral deposits that took

him to remote peripheral regions of the country. In this occasion, he made images of Dorps, rural

communities in South Africa, published in 1986. The tradition of documentary photography is clear

in Dorps (1986) and Platteland (1994) but through the Nineties he developed a style he describes as

“documentary fiction”; after 2000 the people he first discovered and documented living on the

margins of South African society increasingly became a cast of actors in the series “Outland” (2000,

revised in 2015) and “Shadow Chamber” (2005).

courtesy of

courtesy of

The line between fantasy and reality in his subsequent series “Boarding House” (2009) and

“Asylum of the Birds” (2014) became increasingly blurred and in these series he employed

drawings, painting, collage and sculptural techniques to create elaborate sets. In 2016 he released

the book “The Theatre of Apparitions”, in a departure from his existing oeuvre: intricately layered

images occupy a space between painting, drawing and photography linking image-making and

theatrical performance. In his recent photographic series, he has employed drawings, painting,

collage and sculptural techniques to create elaborate sets: Ballen has invented a new hybrid

aesthetic in these works but one still rooted firmly in photography. During his career as a

photographer, Ballen reached many important achievements and he is present in many public

collections including Museum of Modern Art in New York, Center Georges Pompidou in Paris and

Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

courtesy of

Over the past thirty years, he developed a distinctive style of photography using a simple square

format in stark and beautiful black and white. In his earlier works, his connection to the tradition of documentary photography is clear but through the Nineties he developed a language described by himself as “Ballenesque”, that was instantly recognisable in the art world. Ballen creates

photographic works that border between reality and imagination: «Reality is a word that has no

meaning for me. It’s unfathomable. I’d rather like to express the enigma of this world rather than

reflect on its fundamental nature».

courtesy of

The exhibition at the Fondazione Sozzani is developed into three themes: The Body, The Mind and

The Space.

The Body

Ballen’s black and white photographs are powerful psychological portraits, which peer deeply into

the human condition, his characters act out an absurd tableau, creating photographs which are

profound and enigmatic in equal measure.

The Mind

Fossil-like facial forms and dismembered body parts coexist uncomfortably with vaporous,

ghostlike shadows. Timeless and innovative, earthly and otherworldly, physical and spiritual.

“There is no way accurately to describe this place…It is a hard place to get to. It took me many

years not only to reach it, but also to define it visually.”

The Space

The mysterious, cell-like rooms in Ballen’s photographs are actual places, but they are unsettling,

strange and illogical. The walls are covered with scribbled drawings, stains and dangling wires: the floors are strewn with bizarre props and artefacts. The altered sense of place contains drawn and sculptural elements, and the collaboration between artist and subject are clearly evident.

To know more about Roger Ballen please visit


bottom of page