The Ball is a wild and beautiful new book from Ingvar Kenne.
A collection of photographs observing the mayhem of men and women at ten Bachelor & Spinster Balls photographed across two years and thousands of miles of the Australian bush.
Kenne has made a perfectly balanced book: the sensual collision of ten very heavy nights revealed with a lightness, and a gently rigorous eye.
The Ball is a pleasure to hold and see. It’s a finely produced thing. Printed (in the Danish countryside by Narayana Press) with earthlike endpapers and simple cloth binding elevating the clarity of the edit and the design. There’s an illuminating (and funny) exchange of correspondence with Australian writer Tim Winton.
The cover photograph of a figure in the dark wearing a blue trash can like some fucked-up Ned Kelly offers few clues, just signals that things will get wild inside. Then a glorious opening picture announces the balance struck, the bowtie & the abandon, under the heaviest of black ink sky. Right away you’re in deep.
Overwhelmingly, Kenne’s classicism & power of restraint bring lyricism to the chaos.
The design of the book, (a collaboration between Kenne and distinguished Swedish publisher Gosta Flemming, founder of Journal) amplifies this friction, the formality intensifies the abandon documented in its pages. The book itself is fluid and refined, the photographs edited with a lovely mix of intuitive flow and distinct structure, distilled and spare despite the flood of chaos they contain.
As a reader, somehow it’s about where your eye takes you: you look away from the dude with his hand somehow through his own legs & around his balls, to the other completely fucked dude who’s looking away, to a fragment of a flag in the dark. The eye travels around this scene. Time stands still. Were we meant to look at this for such a long time? Something about this makes me think about the act of looking. The physicality of looking. My eyes traveling around the frame. Widening, moving away, looking back. I’m looking at this picture for way too long. Then turn the page and there’s space. Relative calm. The generosity of three pictures, a graceful triptych, the man and the pole, the classicism, the canvas backdrop. The gesture, the sweat, burnt skin, the drunken sinew.
Throwing himself into this alcohol-fueled love-seeking mob with discipline and rigour, Kenne’s pictures hit, for me, just the right level of involvement and detachment.
For Kenne, it begins with fear, and curiosity. “I’m curious but there’s no way I’d go there without a camera. The camera is my shield. And equally my invitation to be curious. I don’t need to be fully part of what I am witnessing.”
“Landed in it with the first B & S Ball. Drove twelve hours straight to the Goondiwindi Showground, enormous amount of fear, did a lap, heckled from the get go in camouflage jeep. Early on someone said to relax, it freed me up. From then on it was Be In It, Be Part of It, Keep Going. You have to give, you can’t just take: became the key. Dive into every campsite. They came to know me. If they want photos, give them. And Fear. 500 drunk people. Next level debauchery. So much alcohol, so little aggression. Because they are all connected. Different from a drunk crowd in a city. Intense. 12 hours – midday to midnight. A blur.”
The classicism of the book. Irving Penn springs to mind in the most fucked up way, the recurring canvas, a Southern Cross tattoo. Portraiture. Just when you’re lulled into thinking about Irving Penn turn the page and here is the slut funnel. Cans and clouds. Never has a white page been more welcome.
IK: “Don’t think about an audience. Moments in photographs that just keep engaging. Walking around looking for the square. The flash tells you when you have it. You see it. Live with everything for a long time. Not preconceived. Not about a narrative. Just look, and think: There’s a bit of a thing going on.”
Dust and metal. Dust and fire in an ice drum. Flames, an embrace, fuel. The wasted bride. VB in each hand. Again the metal fence, the next girl, her dress, the paint stains like flowers, the next bow tie, the torn clothing, the hands the hands the hands. Limbs. Eyes suddenly to camera. At you. Blur fills foreground, sharper falling bodies behind, then the white fence again. All hemmed in.
Corralled. A magnetic field. Repulsion and attraction.
Kenne used one digital camera. Flash. Needed to be cleaned after each Ball, full of color and dust.
IK: “Digital allows that interaction: the generation who wants to be photographed, want to see it, where can they find it, how can they share it, how can they tag it. It’s all in, it’s intimate, but there’s a line. Can’t wander through the camp later with a camera when they are having sex, sleeping.”
Each night, after 12 hours of being in the vortex, Kenne would sleep on the outskirts of the party, in a swag or a tent, away from the noise.
Back to The Ball: Cowboy boots, paint on skin, turquoise, pink, green, girl on ground. These two embracing figures, collapsing into each other – green lips, green fingers, the ink black sky behind, the sudden clarity of the fabric wall defining the space, the delicacy with which it mirrors the fabric binding of the book, the shock of understanding the consideration given to these pictures. Right in it and a world away. Pause, think: how great is a book. What a thing. This is this the only form this could take.
IK: “In this intoxicated, confined environment the theatre you witness keeps on giving. It is all human emotions we all know and see, though now they just keep coming at you. Packed into a limousine or deep in a crowd, things happen. It’s amplified. Concentrated.”
Men fighting and rolling in the dust. Heavy bodies, fingers hooking into drinks, fucked torn Jackaroo shorts, dust, thongs & exposed flesh, the weird elegance of the cigarette. Then turn the page and it goes insane. Paint like blood over white shirt black tie. Collapsing into metal barrier. Smoke. The crowd, the girl’s eyes at you, the bowtie man face painted, blue eyes at you from another century.
There are no rules.
White page. Then a fucked bride again, same bouquet, the white canvas again setting a formal stage for containing and recording collapse. Another spread, white stage, paint, the formality destroyed, shredded. The scalloped frame of the stage, girl in purple corset trying to get her breasts back into order, man leaves frame. People being animals, a relief to be a universe away from the politeness and prohibitiveness of this modern world. Of course men are going to drag women around by their hair. There’s a couple looking almost self-aware. Ahh they are taking a picture of themselves on their phone. They are elsewhere.
Kenne worked with renowned Dutch photobook editor Corinne Noordenbos (think Viviane Sassen’s Flamboya, 2008) refining the edit of The Ball by exchanging a sequence of dummies long-distance over 4 months. They met when his ongoing project CITIZEN was exhibited at Organ Vida Festival in Croatia in 2017. Kenne describes Noordenbos’ approach as “all about asking questions. She never judged or talked about images being successful or not. Having all decisions fall back on me.”
IK: “The work depicts something so brutal. It needed white pages, borders, formality. The viewer never knows what’s coming next. Cover doesn’t give it away. Then it goes all-out in the centre. The title page image is like a clapper board. It’s filmic. Then there are more images after the credits roll.”
Considering the photographer. This is hardcore. Was he detached? How was he looking? What was he wearing, drinking. (IK: A fishing vest with pockets. High Visibility. Clearly there to work, not to participate. The occasional beer, for thirst.)
Was he in it deep? Was it like Anders Petersen leaving Sweden & finding himself in Cafe Lehmitz in Hamburg? Where are we anyway?
IK: “Photography is always my relationship with the world. It’s how I figure things out. Then let it go, fly. Later think about how to put it together. Figuring out life, meeting people. It’s going to the unknown. Don’t want any prior knowledge. Just be there, bring the camera as the reason to investigate, let it figure itself out.”
The hay bale. People are getting more & more fucked up. Bruising grip. Is this fair? Will people freak out about this book? Ahh the brilliance of the gaffer-taped beer-cans. Like some atrocious prosthetic limb. Again the inky black night, the fence in the darkness. The corral. The prosaic details: a drum swollen with cans. Turn the page. A white break. Chin-ups. Cowboy with flair. Looking for a wife. They’re collapsing into each other. Destroyed.
The flying beer can signaling the act of photographing, the quartet holding it together, smiling for the camera. More smoke, more dust, more beer, more flesh.
Then Daylight. Bare feet. Car. Flames from exhaust pipes. Dust. Tarp. Camp.
They are like fucking babies. Crawling, sucking, reaching, grabbing, unhinged.
Then the transcendental photograph of the flying man in mud, beer in each hand, drinking midstream, the grace of him. The precision of Ingvar Kenne’s frame. The balance. The gravity and the float.
Josef Koudelka, photographing Gypsies in 1960s Europe, also photographed from festival to festival, finding in his frame those isolated moments of poetry, within a condensed & concentrated circus.
IK: “No sense of the crowd, just these moments. The guard is down, there’s safety in numbers. Images happen because of safety in numbers. The fear of the camera is gone. Alcohol helps. In editing, the cutting off point was always: is my presence the reason the moment exists? Take those out. With a couple of exceptions to break the rule.”
Man on roof, again the blur, the gesture, the layers, the inky black sky. The next girl, her blue skirt, her legs, the corral, the inky black sky. Suddenly yellow and red and smiling and blonde.
The edit controlling the rhythm of it, providing the guided trip.
The bodies. The men joined and somersaulting shirtless through the flattened cans on the dry grass. The wasted man leans on the fence and observes the photographer. The man collapsed. Hat, beer (never loses grip) the fabric of the wall like the book, bringing me back to remembering the book. The thing of the book. Man enters stage right, tattooed, shredded. Now through the fence. Men on ground like animals in spotlights. Again the corral. The haybale. The plastic chairs overturned.
Chaos. Chaos presented with grace. The Ball is a portrait of humans as animals, in formal attire, shredding as the night rolls through.
Then after the credits: body fucked in the mud, dead? Bystanders. The blast of the swirl of tracks and dust and blue sky. Space. Outside of the corral.
And the girl. His leg, his shadow. The plastic pool, the muddy water, is she washing? Dying?
In a brilliant published exchange, Kenne & Winton correspond by mail, musing over rites of passage, traditional rituals of initiation, crazy Swedish crayfish parties – their letters serving as the sole text in The Ball.
Kenne writes to Winton: “My journey into this was one without expectations, I simply wanted to control nothing and only react to what was in my way. Just like I try to in all my work. I walked away having met only kind and wonderful people, yet I am still confused by the events themselves and what lies at the heart of it. The images I am drawn to seem to be where confusion peaks of what is really going on.”
Winton replies, “… By and large our own rites of passage were once also religious, but this is something most of us have moved on from. But what we’ve replaced those older rituals with are initiation rituals with heartrending emptiness. We’re left with the cultural and spiritual poverty of the 18th birthday bash, for example, or Schoolies Week, the pilgrimage to Anzac Cove, the Buck’s Night and so on. Those rituals are so threadbare it’s tragic.”
IK to TW: “The B&S Balls are uniquely Australian, but to me, at the bottom if it lies this universal thing.”
TW to IK: the images are “a little bit heartbreaking”.
Then back to the earth endpaper & the lovely restraint of the clothbound back cover.
As forceful as it looks & feels Kenne describes The Ball as “mellow”. With a different eye, a different brain and heart behind the camera, a different edit, this book could be a very different animal. Instead, somehow its power lies in its refinement, the respect, the reserve. Distilled, disciplined and clear. There’s an elegance. It’s about letting go.
IK: “It is always about the singular photograph. It needs to stand strong on its own, in my mind, over time. Enough of them, arranged, will start to present a narrative. The story will give itself up. And then you know you can stop traveling. It was always going to be a book.”
— Rachel Knepfer
Knowing full well the earth will rebel
Safe in the wide open arms of hell
— Neil Finn
Ingvar Kenne, with a letter from Tim Winton
Publisher: Journal, Sweden ISBN: 9789187939310
PrePress and Printing: Narayana Press
61 color images • Text by Ingvar Kenne and Tim Winton • Translation to Swedish: Gösta Flemming • Editing and design: Gösta Flemming and Ingvar Kenne • Hard cover • 210 x 250 mm • 96 pages • English/Swedish • 2018 • Edition of 1000 • Limited Edition of 30, comes in a clamshell box with a signed Type C print
Link to Limited Edition video:
The work will feature as an exhibition during FORMAT19 Festival in the UK March 2019