David Ballam: The explorer-photographer

June 10, 2020 3 min read

David Ballam: The explorer-photographer

David Ballam is a contemporary South African photographer based in Johannesburg. He graduated from Rhodes University with an honors degree in Fine Art Photography. His early apprenticeships with both national and international photographers inspired a passion for travel and the African continent. Intrigued by different cultures and customs, he is enthralled by the unexpected. “One of the ironic beauties of travel in Africa is that one has to be prepared for any and all possibilities yet fortunately there are no certainties”. Here, we look at the stories behind some of David’s popular collections.




In 1498, during his search for a maritime trading route between Lisbon and India, Vasco da Gama reached the Island of Moçambique. Ilha de Moçambique became one of Portugal’s vital trading links between Asia and Europe for spices, gold, ivory, pottery and African wood. For 400 years, the island was to be the capital of Portuguese East Africa. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 the island’s fortunes began to wane. Today, many buildings are neglected and in ruins. However, with its rich history and UNESCO World Heritage Site status, Ilha de Moçambique has started benefiting from restoration work.

David’s photos in this collection focus on seascape views of local fishermen at work in traditional handmade dhow boats, a practice that has been part of life on the island for hundreds of years on this ancient Arabic trade route.





David Ballam wall art featuring man wearing jewelry in African landscape. Available at Sarza home goods and furniture store Rye New York


Formally known as Lake Rudolf, Lake Turkana lies within the Kenyan Rift Valley. It is the world’s largest permanent desert lake as well as being the world’s largest alkaline lake. Due to its relative geographic inaccessibility, its aridity and scorching land temperatures, the lake and the immediate surrounds retain their wild character – Nile crocodiles, scorpions and puff adders are just a few of the residents. With an abundance of hominid fossils having been discovered in the area, Lake Turkana National Parks are now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


David Ballam wall art featuring African women walking by lake. Available at Sarza home goods and furniture store Rye New York

David’s Turkana collection features portraits of the local people. David says “For me, it is the people that inhabit the region that are most inspiring and intriguing. With customs, traditions, beliefs and beauty as deep as the lake’s waters, the people – and landscape - of Lake Turkana left me reeling”.




Zanzibar is situated in the Indian Ocean, approximately 37km off the coast of mainland Tanzania. Infused by African, Arab, European and Indian influences, Zanzibar is an island of contrast bursting with culture and history. A truly tantalizing treat for the senses.

Dotted along the west coast of the island are the ruins of numerous old Sultan Palaces in and amongst the spice plantations and fishing villages. David’s collection features a typical view of the traditional outrigger boats, or Ngwalas, used by the Swahili people.




 David Ballam wall art featuring a tree and rocks in the Namib desert. Available at Sarza home goods and furniture store Rye New York
David Ballam wall art featuring a tree in the Namib desert. Available at Sarza home goods and furniture store Rye New York


This collection is a selection of black and white landscape and portrait images taken throughout David Ballam’s photographic journey the length of Namibia. From the ‘Ghost Town’ of Kolmanskop, through the Namib Desert and up into the Skelton Coast and the rugged Kaokoland region.
David says “I was awestruck by Namibia’s beauty, enveloped by its vastness and humbled by its people. Although often described as the “Gem of Africa” I would also call it the “Bodybuilder of Africa”. Its BIG, the landscape is extreme and seemingly on steroids and it’s a country you just don’t mess with.”




David Ballam African wall art featuring portrait of man from the Omo Valley, Ethiopia. Available at Sarza home goods and furniture store Rye New York
David Ballam African wall art featuring portrait of woman from the Omo Valley, Ethiopia. Available at Sarza home goods and furniture store Rye New York


This collection of portraits features tribes from the Omo Valley, Ethiopia. The valley lies in the Southwest of Ethiopia close to its borders with Kenya and Sudan and forms part of the Ethiopian sector of the East African Rift Valley System.

There are more than 16 tribes of different ethnic and language groups that live in the Omo Valley with an estimated 200,000 people. Embroidered animal skins, colorful beads, shells, clay plates, body painting and scarring (to name a few) are used by the tribes to decorate themselves. From tribe to tribe, the type of adornments differ, and in most cases, one can determine which tribe a woman or a man belongs to, and their social status, according to their adornments.




Through his photography, David Ballam takes you with him on his travels around Africa. His images perfectly capture the diverse landscapes, cultures and people of the continent. They are available in a wooden framed canvas or a fine art print and they work well as striking single images or as part of a collection.




All images courtesy of David Ballam @daveballam