Asylum of the Birds

The images in Asylum of the Birds have been photographed entirely within the confines of a house in a Johannesburg suburb, the location of which remains a tightly guarded secret. The inhabitants of the house, both people and animals, and most notably the ever-present birds, are the cast who perform within a sculptural and decorated theatrical interior that Roger Ballen creates and orchestrates. The 90 duotone photographs in Asylum of the Birds were all taken between 2008 and 2013.

Asylum of the Birds is a visionary, alogical and amoral universe where good and evil exist side by side without excluding each other. Beauty does not correspond to the former, nor ugliness necessarily to the latter. It is a place where even beauty and ugliness are still – or are now – blurred together. An aesthetic universe founded on wonder, not harmony. A world where appearances have no importance in and of themselves, because everything, whether animal or human, is much more than can be seen, is an apparition. It manifests itself as a husk of matter, but at the same time, it is reliquary from which the invisible can be conjured forth. The artist’s work thus becomes a sort of shamanic ritual, aimed at revealing what every photograph conceals under the guise of an objective depiction or reality.’ – Didi Bozzini

Ballen on the photography of birds: ‘Birds are difficult to photograph: they move incessantly; get nervous at the click of the camera; fly away through open windows. One cannot fathom what goes through their minds, give them instructions, or expect them to be interested in being photographed. There’s movement all the time: things and drawings are being put up and down; people are coming in and out; birds are flying and bobbing their heads… At a precise point, unity, life, intensity and poetry come about, and it’s my job to know that point.’

About the author

Rogen Ballen is an American-born photographer who has lived and worked in South Africa since the 1970s. His previous award-winning books include Platteland (1994), Outland (2001), Shadow Chamber (2005), BoardingHouse (2009) and Die Antwoord (2013). Roger Ballen’s photographs are collected by some of the most important institutions in the world and he has won numerous prestigious awards in photography and filmmaking.

Didi Bozzini is a curator, critic and writer living in Italy

The video

To coincide with the launch of Roger Ballen’s Asylum of the Birds, a powerful and unforgettable video will be released on 3 March 2014. Directed by Ben Crossman, the film documents the world-famous artist photographer as he enters his unforgettable world as never seen on film before. The video is timeless, psychologically powerful, and masterfully composed. Roger Ballen’s vision defies classification and genres; his world stands out as one of a kind. Click here to watch the video.

Photographer: Roger Ballen
ISBN: 978-0-500-544297
Size (mm):


Pages: 144pp with 90 duotone photographs
Format: Hardcover
Colour: Colour
Rights: South Africa
Language: English
Publication Date: March 2014
Availability in Stock