Throughout the year, crowds of young people across Australia drive hundreds of miles to Outback fairgrounds known as Bachelor and Spinster Balls. Born out of traditional 19th century town dances, originally designed for isolated and loveless country people to find a life-partner, today the ceremonies have morphed into alcohol-fuelled binges and raucous raves.
With unflinching commitment, Ingvar Kenne, in his latest book The Ball, drags us into the very midst of these gatherings. By midnight, we find drunken party-goers, sporting boots and ballgowns, stumbling into clouds of dust and dye. Young men, sodden with beer, scuffle in the dirt whilst elsewhere a woman in a muddied wedding dress downs Victoria Bitter, a tin in each hand. Here is a world which is wild, chaotic and uninhibited – and unashamedly so.
Through such successive images which afford little respite from the inexhaustible antics of these Balls, Kenne’s book amounts to an overwhelming vision of decadence, presenting at once the continuation and upheaval of one of rural Australia’s most cherished ceremonies. It is this ambivalent relationship with the past that points towards the latent millennial angst which exists at the heart of The Ball. Whilst these celebrants’ seemingly proud castings of formalities serve as an expression of apathy towards tradition, their forging of something new, something theirs, is simultaneously infused with the apprehension of what the future holds. Are they coming-of-age rituals or mere hedonistic indulgences? With his characteristic humanist approach – most memorably displayed in his extensive portrait-series CITIZEN (1997–2012) – Kenne refrains from any judgement. Whether escapists, opportunists, or actually lonely singletons searching for the love of their lives, what brings these revellers together is their lust for the present.
In The Ball, Kenne has produced a documentation, neither glorified nor denouncing, of the modern state of an enduring Australian rite. Collectively, these scenes speak of an impulse that far transcends these Outback circuses. Ultimately these are places where strangers can arrive, connect and belong… even if only until the dust settles once the night is over. Yet, even this is not a given. Perhaps this is indeed the overarching spirit of these Balls: live like there’s no tomorrow. ♦
All images courtesy of the artist and Journal. © Ingvar Kenne