Born in Hameln as the son of a shoemaker, Walter Ballhause move with his family to Hannover in 1919. He was a member of the socialist organization Socialist Youth of Germany – Falcons and of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. In 1931 he founded with Otto Brenner in Hannover the local group of the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany. From then on Ballhause started to make photographs in a social environment. In 1933 he was arrested for a short time for political reasons. From 1934 to 1941 he took classes in Hannover as chemical technician and he moved 1941 to Plauen, where he worked as the head of the labs of the company Vomag. Ballhause was arrested again in 1944 and was freed on 17 April 1945 by American soldiers of the 89th Infantry Division. Ballhause was mayor of Strassberg (Plauen) from 1947 and founded the local group of the KPD. He worked in Plauen and retired in 1971.
The works of Walter Ballhause were made known to the public only in the 1970s. Since then they have been acknowledged because they represent, with a high artistic quality, people in the environment in which they live, in particular on the margins of the society. The bulk of his work, done between 1930 and 1933, is a testimony of the proletariat, the situation of jobless people, beggars, kids from big cities and elderly people. Ballhause's photographs were made in workers' settlements, holiday camps for the youth and sports camps for workers. He showed both his own political activities in the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany and those of the Nazi Party. He was often making pictures with a hidden camera.
- Zwischen Weimar und Hitler. Sozialdokumentarische Fotografie 1930-1933. Ballhause, Walter, Munich 1981
- Überflüssige Menschen. Fotografien und Gedichte aus der Zeit der großen Krise. Ballhause, Walter / Becher, Johannes R., Leipzig 1981
- Licht und Schatten der dreißiger Jahre. Foto-Dokumente aus dem Alltag. Ballhause, Walter, Munich 1985
- Faktor Arbeit. (Kat der NGBK, Berlin), Berlin 1997
- Walter Ballhause - Einer von Millionen. DEFA-Dokumentary, Portrait, Director: Karlheinz Mund, 1982
- Biography of Ballhause
- Walter Ballhause (1911–1991). In: Fotografen und Agenturen im Bildarchiv des Deutschen Historischen Museums. Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-86102-024-6 (Magazin. Mitteilungen des Deutschen Historischen Museums).
- Walter Ballhause-Archiv, Homepage of Rolf Ballhause