OUTLAND is my favorite Roger Ballen book because it is at the cusp of his early documentary work and his later fiction work.
Ballen started documenting in the 80’s the homes and inhabitants of remote poor rural white South Africa, to gradually evolve towards theatrical mise en scenes of more complex and abstract compositions, but still using the elements that populated his earlier pictures, namely, stained, graffitied dirty walls, entangled wires and strange humans populating them.
In his latest work, the human presence is almost gone, resembling more drawing, sculpture and still Life photography.
But OUTLAND photography is both, and this is why it is so interesting. Even though you know the people in there are real, within (in most cases) their own surroundings, you can feel they are being directed, making the viewer uneasy about whether to accept these portraits as documentary or fiction.
It is best summed up in Peter Weiemair’s introduction of Outland:
“Ballen’s characters act out dark and discomfiting tableaux, providing images which are exciting and disturbing in equal measure. One is forced to wonder whether they are exploited victims, colluding directly in their own ridicule, or newly empowered and active participants within the drama of their representation”.