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Thomas Smillie, “Komodo Dragon and Keeper, Roy Jennier, at the National Zoo,” 1891


I am very pleased to announce that on Saturday June 28 at 10 am, I will deliver a special presentation about the work of Roger Ballen at Quality Pictures Contemporary Art. My new essay and slideshow, “Before There was Ballen,” will attempt to trace a spiritual and aesthetic heritage for the South African photographer’s disquieting, psychological images. Working mostly with lesser-known historical photographs, I aim to show that the themes and approaches evident in Ballen’s work—including the tensions between the theatrical and the documentary; order and chaos; the grotesque and the seductive; inner lives and outer expressions; men and beasts—have been in play since the dawn of photography.

Ralph Eugene Meatyard, ““Romance of Ambrose Bierce #3,” 1964


In addition to some of the leading names in photo history, such as August Sander, Matthew Brady, and Walker Evans, “Before There was Ballen” will highlight photographs of shot-up rifle targets from 1860, staged Pictorialist tableaux from the Reconstruction south, and early phrenological portraits of women from the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum.

Roger Ballen, “Selma Blair,” 2005


If you are in Portland, please come by for the talk; Saturday is also the last day you can catch the Ballen exhibition, which features nine new photographs making their US debut. Holly Andres’ fantastic Sparrow Lane will also be on view, and I’ve heard talk of a pretty nice spread of food at the event, as well.

Before There Was Ballen, Quality Pictures, 916 NW Hoyt, Sat June 28, 10 am, free.

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