Roger Ballen - 'I fear not living anymore'

Photographer's interview with Eva Wollenberg sees him ruminating on death, darkness and the human condition
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Roger Ballen
Roger Ballen

We've read a lot of great interviews with photographer Roger Ballen over the years - he's a fascinating character - but one conducted with Eva Wollenberg and just published on Humanfiles Journal really gets under the skin of and straight to the heart of one of our favourite photographers here at Phaidon. Here are few of the best bits.

Are people who absolutely reject darkness more dangerous?

It is an interesting point. The term darkness is a complex one. There is the physical one when you turn off the light, but it can also convey the idea of the unknown, connotate evil or mean severe depression. In a Jungian way, I see it as the Shadow, the unknown and repressed part of the Self people fear and leave out. Conflicts, war, social and political problems manifest themselves as a result of people being unaware of who they are and dealing with their repressions. Greater awareness and a psychological revolution are needed in the world. Most people do not understand such sophisticated concepts and need education to realise.

Do you think that your photographs help viewers to understand a bit more of their Shadow?

I have come to the conclusion that the more the individual struggles to deny the work, the more it has ultimately impacted on him. If excessive repression inhibits inner realization, it does not mean that the image will not have an impact on the viewer’s psyche.

There is also a fine line between what we fear and what is captivating…

Fear is part of the basic consciousness of the organic living beings on the planet, a natural instinct and perhaps one of the most important protective ones. Even a mosquito probably feels fear. Existential and physical one are not the same. Existential related issues are basic and shared by most people whether they are aware of them or not : fear of death, of not being able to cope, of the unknown, of getting sick, of not achieving one’s life’s goals.

Was the death of your mother a pivotal moment?

I have always been very existentially focused, driven and aware, even prior to my mother’s death. I studied psychology and was part of the counter culture during the late 60′s and early 70′s. People at that time tried to become aware of themselves, of the cultural brainwashing and were looking at the human experience in a more philosophical and humanistic way. To have experienced such a unique time in history impacted me as much as her death.

What do you fear?

Like everybody else I think, I fear not living anymore.

Read the full interview and then take a look at our Roger Ballen books.


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