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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Informing Contexts – The Photographer As An Artist

“Art is what we call…the thing an artist does. It’s not the medium or the oil or the price or whether it hangs on a wall or you eat it. What matters, what makes it art, is that the person who made it overcame the resistance, ignored the voice of doubt and made something worth making. Something risky. Something human. Art is not in the …eye of the beholder. It’s in the soul of the artist.”

― Seth Godin

When discussing the ideas proposed by Emerson, Snyder and Allen (1975: 144) state that “The aim of the artistic photographer is not different from the aim of the artist in other media such as oil painting or charcoal” and “the basic notion that photographs were representations, and should be understood and judged as were other kinds of representations, was quite widespread”.  

The idea that the photographer is an artist and that photographs are to be considered alongside other works of art is something that resonates with my practice.  As I have said previously, I am an image maker.  I do not perceive myself as a portrayer of the truth or reality.  Roger Ballen produces work that cannot be viewed as authentically representing what is true.  His work is a representation of how subjects with physical and mental disabilities might be viewed by others.  He relies on the viewer to add their own interpretation to the scene in front of them.


Figure 1: Roger Ballen Outland


Figure 2: Roger Ballen


Figure 3: Roger Ballen

So, is Ballen an artist or a photographer?  How can we categorise his work?  When we look at the above photographs, we realise that they could have been images that he found or they could have been ones that he set up and staged.  The pictures do not make the source clear.

When I try to interpret the images, I find it hard to answer some of the basic questions about the images.  What am I looking at?  At times with Ballen’s work I am unsure.  I have no context in which to place these images.  I do not have any experience of the scenes in front of me.  The visual messages are jumbled and confusing.  Does it matter?  Not to me.  I enjoy being challenged by Ballen’s work.  I appreciate his work in that he presents me with images where the rules we take for granted in photography don’t apply to his work.

So where do I sit in this?  As much as I like Ballen’s work, I am not yet sure if I want my images to require so much interpretation by the viewer.  I certainly don’t want to give my viewers the whole story, but I do want them to get the messages I am trying to portray.  Guess there is much to be done here.


Godin, S. From Quotes About Photography (576 quotes) . 2017. Quotes About Photography (576 quotes) . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 13 February 2017].

Snyder, J. & Allen, N. 1975. Photography, Vision, and Representation. Critical Inquiry, [Online]. vol. 2, no. 1, 143-169. Available at: [Accessed 1 February 2017].

Figure 1:Roger Ballen Photography. 2017. Outland | Roger Ballen Photography. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 13 February 2017].

Figure 2: OVRMDULTD. 2017. Roger Ballen . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 13 February 2017].

Figure 3: OVRMDULTD. 2017. Roger Ballen . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 13 February 2017].

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