Saturday, July 27, 2013
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You're a commercial success, and that includes pop culture too. Your video for "I Fink U Freeky" helped put the South African group Die Antwoord on the map internationally. The clip has been viewed more than 33 million times on YouTube.
Ballen: I knew the artists for many years. Seven years ago the vocalists contacted me and told me they identified with my work. Both of them, Ninja and Yolandi, sent some of their music videos. At first I didn't know what to do with them because I wasn't a video maker. Two years later, they came from Cape Town to Johannesburg, where I live, and I took my first pictures of them. In 2010, we integrated my drawings into one of their videos. It went viral, and that's also when their career took off.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What was it like to direct "I Fink U Freeky?"
Ballen: Our relationship is built on seeing eye to eye. They like the aesthetic I represent: strong, intense photographs that penetrate people's psyche. All this is also relevant to their music. But it was real teamwork, and things just clicked into place: their music combined with my backgrounds and subjects that I have worked with for years.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: When did you get into photography?
Ballen: When I was 18 I finally got my first serious camera, a Nikon FTN. From 1968 to 1972, I studied psychology at Berkeley, and I did a lot of photography during those years. It was a pivotal time in the national culture, and Berkeley epitomized the counterculture. At the time, my work was quite socially and politically oriented, focused on anti-Vietnam protests and civil rights.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: After you graduated, you moved to South Africa, which was still under apartheid. How does a Berkeley graduate arrive at such an idea?
Ballen: I got to South Africa in a rather roundabout way. After 5 years of traveling the world and putting together my first book, "Boyhood," I went to the Colorado School of Mines, and graduated with a Ph.D. in Mineral Economics in 1981. I didn't find it easy to be in America at that time. I felt overwhelmed with the competitive and corporate nature of society. What I liked about South Africa when I first visited in the 1970s was that you lived as though you were in the First World but also had a lot of Third World around you.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But surely apartheid didn't just pass you by?
Ballen: Not at all. I felt the best way for me to make political change was through photography -- my kind of photography. My book "Platteland" had a huge impact on South Africans' perceptions of themselves. It showed white people who lived at the margins of society. It broke the myth of white supremacy. When it was published, I was subjected to a lot of accusations. I was considered a whistleblower like Edward Snowden at the time.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does that make "Platteland" a primarily political book?
Ballen: Not in my eyes. For me, the purpose of the book was to deal with aspects of the human condition as I perceived it. And that comes across to this day. The images in "Platteland" have meaning even to a generation in the United States and Europe that knows little about apartheid.
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
RAVENS ARE CLEVER ENOUGH TO HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR AND TO BE MISCHIEVOUS.
Ravens in the Tower of London
According to legend, the Kingdom of England will fall if the ravens of the Tower of London are removed.
It had been thought that there have been at least six ravens in residence at the tower for centuries.
The earliest known reference to a Tower raven is a picture in the newspaper The Pictorial World in 1883.
This and scattered subsequent references, both literary and visual, which appear in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, place them near the monument commemorating those beheaded at the tower, popularly known as the “scaffold.”
This strongly suggests that the ravens, which are notorious for gathering at gallows, were originally used to dramatize tales of imprisonment and execution at the tower told to tourists by the Yeomen Warders.
There is evidence that the original ravens were donated to the tower by the Earls of Dunraven, perhaps because of their association with the Celtic raven-god Bran.
However wild ravens, which were once abundant in London and often seen around meat markets (such as nearby Eastcheap) feasting for scraps, could have roosted at the Tower in earlier times.
During the Second World War, most of the Tower's ravens perished through shock during bombing raids, leaving only a mated pair named "Mabel" and "Grip."
Shortly before the Tower reopened to the public, Mabel flew away, leaving Grip despondent. A couple of weeks later, Grip also flew away, probably in search of his mate. The incident was reported in several newspapers, and some of the stories contained the first references in print to the legend that the British Empire would fall if the ravens left the tower.
Since the Empire was dismantled shortly afterward, those who are superstitious might interpret events as a confirmation of the legend. Before the tower reopened to the public on 1 January 1946, care was taken to ensure that a new set of ravens was in place.
Ravens in the Tower of London
Portrait by Colin O’Brien