Roger Ballen, 59, is a professional geologist, a “mineral explorationist.” For decades he traveled to nearly every African country looking for deposits of diamonds, clay, cobalt and coal.
“That’s what I did for 30 years,” he said. “I roamed the continent and looked for minerals, but I also always kept my eyes open for photographs.”
In the early 1980s, Mr. Ballen said, “My photography really got going when I started photographing these small towns — dorps — in South Africa.”
Before this time, many of the images Mr. Ballen had made were exteriors. In South Africa, he went indoors with his camera. “There was sort of this metaphoric movement — inside the place, inside my mind,” he said.
Trained to discover valuable deposits, Mr. Ballen exposes rich emotions in his photographs. He witnessed the goings-on at an abandoned building he called the Boarding House, located between two big mine dumps on the eastern side of Johannesburg. His aim was not only to share the story of the building or the community of residents — human and animal — within it. Instead, his haunting, cramped images offer mere clues and thwart any expectations of a clear narrative.