Tanner Ballengee – Interview
We’ve featured the work of Tanner Ballengee previously on OGA and when we heard about his recent expeditions we wanted to know more. We were lucky enough to be sent a copy of his ‘Harsh Barge’ Zine featuring images captured during his voyage and we’ve also conducted an interview with Tanner to accompany the review.
For images of ‘Harsh Barge’ and our interview
1. Can you please introduce yourself and tell us about where you are based?
My name is Tanner Ballengee, known as TB by some, and I am based in Topeka, KS, USA–a place nicknamed the “Golden City” but should probably be called the “Golden Shower.”
2. Where did you get your first inspiration to pick up a camera?
In 2009, after seeing different work that inspired me from artists like Ed Templeton, Dash Snow, Patrick O’dell, Reza Nader, and others. I went to a thrift store and bought a point and shoot film camera for a couple bucks. I’ve been hooked since.
3. In terms of genre, where do you place your photographic output?
Technically speaking, I think it falls under documentary photography. I like to think as my photography as “honest.”
For some reason what comes to mind is lyrics from an Eminem song: “looniest, zaniest, spontaneous, sporadic / impulsive thinker, compulsive drinker, addict”. I like to document the unnoticed, the funny, and the dirty sides of life. I take pictures of pretty stuff too. I try to wait for photos to come to me instead of producing them.
4. Can you tell us a little more about your recent travels and subsequently produced ‘Harsh Barge’ Zine? Where did you go?
Long story short: I rode motorcycles with my friend Conner through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, India, and Nepal, while following a strict set of rules that we created for our trip. The main one: never pay to sleep. It lasted over three months and we saw a lot of crazy shit.
5. What were the pros and cons of the self-instigated rules?
The pros: getting into sketchy situations, meeting people we would’ve never met, seeing things we would’ve never seen, accidentally sleeping in mansions, funny stories, freedom, great photo opportunities, doing something that people normally wouldn’t do.
The cons: mosquitoes, police, sleeping on the dirty ground, rain, cold temperatures, not being able to find mechanics or restaurants or beer, fucked traffic, shitty roads, border crossings, piles of shit and piss in the street, getting diarrhea, etc. The rules made things harder for us some of the time. Most of the time.
6. Did the lack of cleanliness impede your chances with the ladies?
Not for Conner—he’s good with the ladies. I, on the other hand, am not. But I had a girlfriend back home so I wasn’t worried about having any romances on the road.
Image courtesy of Conner
7. Did you throw away the clothes you wore during the trip or frame them? I’m sure if you had boiled them in water you could have made a potent cup of tea.
Conner threw his away. I kept mine and just washed them, thoroughly. I’m actually wearing the “white t” from the list of rules right now, the same filthy one seen in the second to last photo in the zine. I will probably take the same ones next time I travel somewhere.
8. What highs and lows did you experience throughout whilst on your travels?
Meeting great, generous people, cruising empty roads on sunny days with a fully charged iPod, and drinking beer on beaches in Thailand and Vietnam were some highs. Some lows were getting rained on for 11 straight hours, getting kicked out of abandoned building by locals or militants with AK-47’s, harassment by cops, getting ripped off, etc. I also got really sick the day before I left India. That sucked.
9. What was the most disturbing sight of the trip?
There were so many. India is a wild place. So I’ll just give the last one: we had to take a train from Agra to Kolkata, India, and at one of the stops I was looking out the window and saw a man lying on his back on the ground with a rag over his face. There were probably around 10,000 flies covering his face and stomach. Now, I was used to seeing homeless people with flies all over them, but I’m pretty sure this guy was dead. And everyone was just sitting around, waiting for their train, no big deal.
10. Is there one or more images shot during this project that has a greater personal significance?
Each photo has some kind of story behind it, which is why I’m writing about them online and also working on a memoir. But the one of the dead dog with the rope tied to its foot still bothers me. It was tethered to a truck, and we saw it being dragged just before the driver got out and cut it loose. The image of the lifeless, jelly-like carcass dragging on the ground stuck with me all day. And also the photo of the broken sandal in the mud—that was Conner’s sandal after he got hit by a car and run over by a truck—which was probably the scariest and most fucked part of the trip.
I also really like the photos I took in Agra, which is the city where the Taj Mahal is. Mainly the one of the whale-tail in front of the Taj Mahal, next to the one of the guy sleeping on the ground. I think they say a lot about India.
What does the future hold for Tanner Ballengee?
Write more, shoot more, skate more, travel more, create more.
If you’ve got a Zine or self published printed matter you would like to see reviewed on OGA all you’ve got to do is mail it to us in Bristol. Our address is:
4 Chelsea Park