Nick Ballon’s journalistic sensibility is at the heart of his photographic practice. He has a way of discovering those little ticks or details about a place, person or situation that others miss. Everything centres around his boundless curiosity. With each project, he invests hours into research and development. Studying and hunting for nuances and irreverent details that allow him to forge a new route into a particular subject. He fuses this knowledge with his unique visual language that draws inspiration from modern painters like Luc Tuymans and Peter Doig to a folder of personal iPhone snapshots which capture the oddities and accidents that occur in the everyday. This unique blend of high and low, research and observation, is the foundation of his approach to image-making.
His best work occupies a state of limbo. Layers of contradictions equally intrigue and seduce the viewer, and things are often not what they seem on the surface. He is interested in the moments that sit halfway between real and constructed. His compositions are graphic but retain warmth; an uplifting colour palette illuminates an often mysterious or dark subject matter.
Ballon is a master observationalist, seeking out the decisive moment when searching, looking and waiting all come together. The work is quiet, yet attentive. He applies a sophisticated and sensitive approach to storytelling which unifies a diverse range of subjects. His practice defies categorisation. His portfolio is a collision of subjects from the worlds of politics, art, science, history, sport and popular culture.
For the last decade, Ballons’s art practise has focused exclusively on his Anglo-Bolivian heritage, exploring socio-historical ideas of identity and place, with a particular focus on the concept of ‘foreignness’ and belonging. This work began at an auspicious time for both parties. Having grown up in the U.K, Nick began to unravel his heritage through annual trips to Bolivia, discovering and observing through the people and communities he encountered. At the same time, the country was at a point of flux. The impact of globalisation, the growing middle class and the immediate accessibility of technology resulted in a rapid information evolution. All of a sudden people were looking outwards. While Bolivians embraced their indigenous culture, they became massively influenced by the west. It was a dynamic period of change and a poignant time of discovery for Ballon.
The work has started to build a collective narrative of a country often forgotten. Projects have included Ezekiel 36:36, a curious exploration of Bolivia’s national airline Lloyd Aereo Boliviano (LAB). “LAB is in many ways the story of the Bolivian people, caught between past glory and grandeur, and a promised future that never seems to arrive.” The project is the story of an airline waiting for a miracle. He captures the absurdity of LAB’s grounded and decaying fleet and the men and women which keep the airline alive. He captures a poetic beauty in the remnants of this once glamorous airline.
Ciudad Rebelde is a sensitive portrait of bolivia’s second largest city, the rebellious El Alto. A cliff-top city of a million people living 4,150m above sea level. El Alto has seen a remarkable population growth with over 60% of its inhabitants being under the age of 28 and who have moved to the city in search of a better life. “It’s a real hotspot for indigenous-led capitalism and has one the largest black markets in the world, making the city a fascinating place visually.” The images illustrate El Alto’s vibrancy and dynamism, from young emerging rappers to half-built brick towers, futuristic cable cars and political radicals.
“Once upon a time, El Alto used to be a place where people passed through en route to the airport. I spent many years doing so and slowly, over the years, started to notice changes on my visits as I sped through at 6 am in a taxi heading downtown to La Paz. At some point, I decided to stop and listen,”. Ciudad Rebelde’s central focus is on how El Alto’s rapid urbanisation has changed the city’s social fabric as some people acquire large amounts of disposable income, while others are left struggling to make ends meet.
Ekeko pushes deeper into the complex cultural inheritance of El Alto’s indigenous Andean people through the material objects of their aspirational self-expression. At the centre of this visual study are the centuries-old Alasitas festival and its poncho-clad patron, Ekeko, the Aymara god of abundance and fortune to whom miniature incarnations of buyers’ desires for the coming year are annually proffered.
His most recent work ‘The Bitter Sea’, looks at land-locked Bolivia, and its painful longing to reclaim back its sea lost in a war to Chile over 129 years ago. ‘The Navy Without a Sea’ is a small part of this wider project, which follows the rituals and daily habits of the Navy’s elite scuba unit. Due to its landlocked state, the Bolivian Navy is ironically, primarily ceremonial. Nick’s Bolivian work builds on themes of hope and uncertainty as the country continues to grapple with it’s past.
Ballon’s photography is a personal journey into his Bolivian heritage, shaped around his lifelong curiosity to understand both his own history and the people and places which informed it.