Shadow Land is a new show, comprehensively revealing the extraordinary work of Roger Ballen. Revered for his contribution to contemporary photography and as one of the most important artists in the field of his generation, New York-born Ballen spent 30 years in South Africa, developing his style and documenting his surroundings, all in the consistent black and white and square format.
It’s an oeuvre that reveals a heavy and affecting aporia of immediate “extreme, uncanny beauty,” as described by the gallery, and the incomprehensible complexities of its subject matter, focussing quite deliberately on the marginalised people and the extreme-ness of their lives.
Though the format remains the same, the style evolved, we are told, into “documentary fiction,” making consciously indistinct “the line between reality and fantasy.” But does this make the images more understandable as perennial art rather than the deeply real and personal moment that existed for the society he has been witnessing since the 1980s? Either way, to be moved or disturbed or enthralled by a photo is a very real thing.
Shadow Land: Photographs by Roger Ballen 1983-2011 is now showing at the Manchester Art Gallery until May 13.