Roger Ballen: The Rome Ballen Times

About This Project


Roger Ballen was born in America but has spent the last 35 years of his life photographing the outskirts of Johannesburg, coming into close contact with that hidden world so detached from everyday life – the *shanty towns* and their inhabitants, often labelled as ‘freaks’. His encounter with this world profoundly conditioned his aesthetic to the point where it became the icon of his work. And from this a darker dimension was born, incorporating shadows and lingering ghosts from an undefined past. To enter Rome, Ballen built his own hut, which connects his own story to that of the outskirts of Rome, the focus of neorealist visual investigations. Pier Paolo Pasolini was even found dead next to a series of huts on the night of the 1st of April 1975.

The hut was Ballen’s way of violently entering Rome with his aesthetic. He uses chalk and charcoal to adorn the walls with designs he has seen so many times in South Africa’s shanty towns and creates a stage for which he is creator and director. The show on this stage is divided into three acts: in the first, the house comes to life, populated by the characters and their interactions. Roger orchestrates every element, arranging the objects around the space – nothing is left to chance although it may appear confused on the surface. The second act is reserved for his photographs, imbued with that world of shadows that Ballen knows inside out and is able to disassemble and recompose. The third and final act is the stage itself. As though it were a three-dimensional photo stuck in an immobile time, the hut invites visitors to approach and connect.

Roger concludes: “At the end of the day, it is a place in the archetypal consciousness that contains both Rome and Johannesburg. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, you do not need to know the history of Rome in order to occupy this space in one way or another.”

Curated by

Marco Delogu with Flavio Scollo

MACRO, XV edition