Roger Ballen: Asylum of the Birds


To run alongside the release of his new book Asylum of the Birds, Roger Ballen has released a documentary short filmed in collaboration with director Ben Crossman. Aside from his work with famed South African outfit Die Antwoord, this is Ballen’s only other video offering from a career spanning 50 years as a photographer. Asylum of the Birds gives the viewer a thorough look into the method behind the visual madness of Ballen’s photographs.

The video shows Ballen and Crossman traversing squatters’ camps, mine dumps and abandoned fields in order to reach a shanty town on the outskirts of Johannesburg. The corrugated iron structures act as a home and a cage to refugees, escaped mental patients and run away prisoners, as well as a Noah’s arc of animals. Ballen talks about collecting ephemera for his own photographs from pawn shops and witch doctors, as well as odds and ends for those in need, a testament to his lengthy relationship with the people he photographs. Marred with symbols and chaotically cluttered, the Asylum itself looks as though it was designed for the photographer, preexisting Ballen’s use of it.

Ballen notes “When I create photographs I’ll often travel deep into my own interior, a place where dreams and many of my images originate. I see my photographs as mirrors, reflectors, connectors that challenge the mind”

Ballen’s mind, not always being a place of comfort, should be no deterrent to viewing this work. Asylum of the Birds is an incredible addition to his photographic narrative.

Asylum of the Birds by Roger Ballen is published by Thames & Hudson.