Considered one of the most original image-makers of the 21st century, American-born photographer Roger Ballen has lived and worked in South Africa for four decades. ‘Asylum of the Birds’ is set within the confines of a makeshift house on the outskirts of Johannesburg, a place inhabited by individuals at the absolute margins of society. In this anarchic place, the human and animal inhabitants collaborate as Ballen’s cast in an on-going series of quasi-directed performances. As we enter Ballen’s layered netherworld the images simultaneously repel and compel our gaze and transport us to an even darker dream world, that of the fears within our own imagination. The omnipresent birds, both alive and dead, signal a foreboding reminiscent of Hitchcock, while simultaneously suggesting hope and freedom. While the word ‘asylum’ could be defined a place of insanity, it also suggests refuge and persists in our mind as a metaphor for redemption.
‘My purpose in taking photographs over the past forty years has ultimately been about defining myself. It has been fundamentally a psychological and existential journey.’ – Roger Ballen