Peter Bialobrzeski

Quoting from reality

When Peter Bialobrzeski started out as a professional photographer at a local newspaper in his home town of Wolfsburg in 1983, he could not know that he would one day find himself caught between the conceptual fronts of photojournalism and art photography. His pictures were deemed too “artistic” for what is considered classical news photography, and too “journalistic” for the prevailing trends in the art scene. And yet Bialobrzeski worked as a photographer for renowned media such as GEO, Merian, Tempo and Die Zeit for more than ten years. During this time, he developed a keen instinct for exceptional motifs.

In his series “Neon Tigers”, Bialobrzeski takes his own, very individual view of Asia’s fast-growing economic centres, above all Hong Kong, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Bangkok. Through his camera lens, he transforms the “Asian Tigers” – a term commonly used in the 1980s to describe Asian countries with the highest economic growth – into the eponymous “Neon Tigers” in a total of seven journeys. He presents the megacities as ultra-modern dream worlds in glittering neon light and as utopias that bear traces of dramatic economic and social change.

Without manipulating them in any way, he creates pictures that call to mind the fantastic imagery of the classic 1982 science-fiction movie “Blade Runner”. In this visually stunning dystopia, director and producer Ridley Scott presents an Asianized mega Los Angeles as a gigantic urban sprawl filled with skyscrapers. Bialobrzeski first saw the film in a video café in Bangkok during his first backpacking trip in 1987 and it left a lasting impression on him. However, the technology he used to create the photos in “Neon Tigers” is anything but futuristic: Bialobrzeski took them with a large-format, analogue camera using conventional film material. Seductive pastel hues, reduced contrasts and striking light reflections transform monotone concrete facades into brightly coloured architectural landscapes out of which individual buildings loom like sculptures. Although the colours in his photographs often come across as being artificial, they are produced by “natural” means: In the pre-dawn light, as the darkness of night gradually fades, the neon and fluorescent lights from apartments, offices, cookshops, street lights and billboards glow with an even greater intensity. In Neon Tigers #53, set in Shanghai, the well-tended but deserted square in the forefront appears to be a fictional place of cult worship for the ultra-modern urban freeway above it: empty and sterile, yet an eloquent monument of fascinating modernity and vibrant futurism.

However much his photographs claim to bear witness to the growth and the changes taking place in these cities, they are ultimately “fictional” or, as Bialobrzeski describes them, “they quote from reality”.

Biographical information

1961

born in Wolfsburg, Germany

1981-83

studies Political Science and Sociology at the University of Braunschweig, Germany

1988-93

studies at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, as well as at the London College of Painting

1994

becomes a member of the photo agency laif, based in Cologne, Germany

1997

becomes a member of the DFA – Deutsche Fotografische Akademie

since 2002

Professor for Photography at the University of the Arts, Bremen

2003/2010

receives the World Press Photo Award

2012

receives the Erich Salomon Award from the DGPh – German Society of Photography, Cologne

lives and works in Hamburg and Bremen.