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Photographer Mark Ballogg explores the world of artists

Mark Ballog, Now entering his seventh decade with Colt-like energy and a great book under his arm, he’s a distinctive-looking man with a beard, a quick smile and a cheerful disposition that any Santa Claus would envy. he gently describes his childhood as “messy and unstructured”.

One of three children, he and his brother and sister were raised by wolves, so to speak. “My mother and father were married many times,” she told me. “At last count there were 12 marriages between the two and we were shaken as a result. “We lived in a lot of places, informal foster homes, all kinds of places.”

His parents were dead, but his mother drank heavily and his father was “a good-natured parent with a quick temper.” Yet not only has Ballogg survived, he can also see a bright side to the chaos of youth. “It was difficult, but it gave me the ability to adapt to new situations and make friends quickly,” he says.

After completing several grammar and high school educations, he worked as a zookeeper, swimming pool maintenance man, delivery boy, and various restaurant roles, which is only a partial list of his many jobs. He played in a rock ‘n’ roll band but “knew I would never be a star.”

He had an artistic drive that showed in the little sketches he drew. Wanting to preserve some of these, he decided to buy a camera and dropped $500 for a Nikon, realizing, “I’d better learn how to use this thing.” So he enrolled at Columbia College and began studying photography. She was able to pay her school fees by working as a teacher’s assistant while living in what she referred to as “the big closet” in her brother’s garden flat.

“It was the first time I was in a dark room and saw an image emerge, it was like magic,” he says. “I’m hooked.”

He was good too, and in his senior year a teacher hooked him up with a scholarship, which brought him to Paris with his camera and a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. After tough days and cockroach-infested rooms, he eventually fell in love with the city, especially its ancient cemetery, Père Lachaise. She took photographs there and on many streets of Paris.

His girlfriend, Paula Zajac, a photography student at Columbia, would accompany him to Paris for a while, and if you ask her about those days now, she’ll give you a line from Joni Mitchell’s song “Free Man in Paris”: “I was a free man in Paris/ “I felt free and alive.”

When he returned to Chicago, he teamed up with a Columbia classmate named James Steinkamp to found Steinkamp/Ballogg, which would become an acclaimed and successful architectural photography firm over the next two decades. He and Paula got married and Paula would become chef. They bought a building and had two sons, now adults, one an artist in California and the other a CPS teacher.

“Life was good,” he says.

Yet his artistic drive remained, especially after he wrote a book about Paris and its haunting cemetery in 2015. Five years ago, nearing the end of his commercial career, he accompanied a friend to visit Richard Hunt’s studios. The South Side native is considered one of the world’s most important artists as he approaches his 90th birthday. His studio is located in a former CTA electrical substation and described described by my colleague Darcel Rockett as “a reservoir of creativity that can deliver a whiplash… a vast structure in which one sees light, shadows, books, cardboard and metal, ready to become something transcendent.”

Ballogg was similarly impressed, saying: “I was amazed and amazed by Richard’s space.” It is the first photograph seen in Ballogg’s book “Making Place”.

There have been photobooks before, now devoted to artists and the places where they worked. After looking at a number, Ballogg decided, “I can add something new to this.” He started the project, contacting the artists and asking if he could photograph their studios. He knew some of them. Many did not. “But one artist suggested another and made an entry, and so on.”

He got to know the artist’s works by researching on the internet before each visit and said: “But I didn’t ask for too much information. “I wanted to walk into each place in a new way and see them as if I were seeing them for the first time.”

Each visit consisted of two hours of photography followed by an hour of breezing, so to speak, listening to the artists explain their work. He recorded them and used some of the words to embellish the photographs.

  • “I always felt like I belonged and didn’t belong. Art can exist among things.
  • “I create chaos. “There is a broken order here.”
  • “For me, art has never been about expression. It was always about discovery.
  • “Going back and forth between idea and experience.”

Some artists did not want their words used. Some artists didn’t make the final cut of 162 visits, 162 transcripts and more than 4,000 images.

It’s easy to get lost in these images, both wide shots and detailed photos. Many of the words read like poetry.

“Making Space” is a fascinating book, and one that meets the goal Ballogg set for himself: “I was after diversity, diversity of gender, diversity of race, age, styles.”

One of the featured artists is painter Tim Anderson, who tells me: “Mark has photographed many paintings in my studio over the years. He is organized. It is efficient. It doesn’t linger. He keeps it loose and it’s always fun. “He took dozens of photographs of my paintings along with other oddball items in my studio that kept me on my toes.”

“This is the kind of book that I love in every detail,” Anderson says of “Making Place.” He’s a great example of getting exactly what he wants, but I don’t know how he does it. I will never be able to visit all of these workspaces. But I love this view into the lives of all these creators.”

Ballogg is in the process of delivering his book to all the artists he has met and photographed. There are plans to open more exhibitions. She also told me that this book “documents my evolution as a photographer.”

He later says: “I think the challenge is, ‘Now, what happens next?’ is to ask.”

rkogan@chicagotribune.com

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