In the early 70s, I was interested in Beckett and did this play, this film about the Beckett type people, so I mean before I came to South Africa, I had an eye on that type of character, and there’s a lot of photographs I took of sort of people living on the margin in the 70s and late 60s, that I took — so I don’t think it’s sort of — I didn’t take those pictures with really a political — my goal wasn’t really a political message. It was trying to define the people living on the margin, and the metaphor for the periphery, the metaphor for being alone in a place, and trying to struggle with who you are in a place that doesn’t accept you in some ways.1
So, it really wasn’t surprising to find those people there. I think what was important was the way I started to photograph them, I started to develop an aesthetic approach toward photographing people, when you — first of all, you got to choose certain people. What I look for may not be what other people look for, it’s made up of hundreds of little details that I find in people that register in my mind as somebody I want to photograph.2 And then when you — when that happens, you can then try to pull out those things that you find interesting or meaningful to yourself.
So, again there’s a subjective decision, and my style was starting to develop in that period. And you see the beginning of how I began to photograph people, and so what you really see is a transformed archetype, a Roger Ballen archetype. So, that’s what you begin to see. It’s not like a South African archetype, it’s a Roger Ballen archetype. And that’s really important to understand, that you know, nobody can take — even in those days, nobody could take pictures like me. I’m not saying I can take pictures like a lot of the — I take pictures like anybody else either, but nobody can — taking pictures is like drawing. You would accept that you can’t draw like Picasso or most people can’t draw like anybody else.
Well, photography is absolutely no different. It’s no different than writing a poem about a flower outside, you would accept the fact that your poem was going to be different than somebody else’s. So, the whole problem with photography, people think it’s in a — that it’s in a — the camera is an objectifier. It’s not an objectifier. It’s a way of expressing subjectivity. There’s no such thing as a — I don’t know what subjectivity is anyway, I have no idea what it is. It’s a way of expressing yourself to a machine. That’s the thing. So, it’s important to understand that the pictures I took were about my aesthetic.