Roger Ballen "Boarding House" 2008

Roger Ballen and Shelby Lee Adams at Fahey/Klein

Roger Ballen "Boarding House" 2008

The Fahey Klein gallery presents Shelby Lee Adams’ Salt & Truth and Roger Ballen’s Boarding House & New Works. One may ask why are these two exhibited together? Shelby Lee Adams’ Salt & Truth exhibits years of history in his photographs of an Appalachian community that is disappearing. Roger Ballen’s Boarding House & New Works photographs reveal a surreal world he’s created in a bizarre warehouse building near Johannesburg. The two exhibitions explore worlds that most of us know nothing about, as we are blind to many truths and realities in life.

Adams has been working on portraits of families from Appalachia for about forty years. Each portrait tells a story about the time, place, and character of Appalachian individuals, their families, and their community’s history over the past hundred years. He has gained acceptance from the families by spending time with them day after day. Sometimes Adams will stop by for a visit without any intent on taking photographs. His greatest aspiration seemed to be to build strong relationships with the Appalachian community. This is evident in photographs such as Brenda, who represents the “hard-formed” personality Adams shares about these people. The elder woman holds a frowned attitude in her expression with her hands on her hips as she stands in front of a clothesline with a stained flowered sheet that is used to hold more laundry.  There is a sense of truth in these portraits seeing that Adams’ subjects allow him to photograph them the way they want themselves to be represented. This is shown in the portrait of Natasha, a freckled teenage girl who stands timidly as she exposes the tattoos and piercing on her stomach. Salt & Truth is a story about a culture that is slowly fading away as our society continues to advance globally.

Ballen decided to open his mind through photographs of a surreal world that may or may not exist. His photographs take on a theatrical role of imagination because they are beyond a realistic moment in time. The untitled 6088 illustrates this idea of surrealism as it involves scribbled doodles on walls, rotting objects, human hands, and two doves. Ballen has carefully composed the composition in this photograph to create an illusion. It challenges the viewer to contemplate why the childish doodles appear in a dark room with a stained toilet or whose creepy hands are freeing these beautiful doves. Ballen’s Boarding House & New Works gives evidence that the dreamlike world he’s photographed really exists. It’s a world that only exists in his and our minds.

Both of these works exhibited together take the viewer into a different place; place that is both imaginary and very much real.

Deana Romo



Shelby Lee Adams "Amy and Sheep" 1990