Disturbing, confronting, challenging … the works of internationally renowned South African photographer Roger Ballen will be exhibited at the National Library in Canberra from Wednesday 26 November.

Brutal, Tender, Human, Animal: Roger Ballen Photography provides a powerful and thought-provoking vision of the human condition, exploring poverty, the psychology of human beings and the theatrical possibilities of photography.

This exhibition, curated by the Art Gallery of Western Australia’s Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, Robert Cook, broadly surveys Ballen’s photography over the past 25 years.

It is the first major Australian exhibition of this important photographer’s work and was first shown at the Art Gallery of Western Australia as part of the FotoFreo Festival in early 2008. The National Library of Australia is the only other Australian venue for this compelling exhibition.

Born in New York in 1950, Roger Ballen studied psychology and later geology, the field he made his profession. He has lived in Johannesburg for the past 30 years, where he worked in the mining industry – a career that took him into the poor rural areas known as “dorps” that became his initial artistic focus.

“Ballen’s work is unsettling, beautiful, often brutal, but always deeply moving,” Dr Cook said. “These are non-judgmental portraits, based on trust, exchange and friendship. Ballen knows his subjects, revisits and re-photographs them on a number of occasions.”

“While his work has its roots in the photo-documentary tradition, it has become more theatrical in recent years, with his subjects becoming like actors who creatively collaborate in the process.”

Ballen’s work is included in various international collections including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and the Los Angeles County Museum.

His work appears by courtesy of the Stills Gallery, Sydney.

Brutal, Tender, Human, Animal: Roger Ballen Photography, 26 November – 29 March 2009, Exhibition Gallery. Open daily, 9am – 5pm. Admission free. Exhibition catalogue: $9.95.
Robert Cook is available for interview. High-resolution images are available for download at http://www.nla.gov.au/media/

Sally Hopman, Media Liaison Manager, National Library of Australia
02 6262 1704 or 0401 226 697 or shopman@nla.gov.au