Peter Bialobrzeski: Case Study Homes

I can very well remember when Peter allowed us to preview some of these series he photographed in Baseco, a shanty town near the Port of Manila, during the workshop. What strikes me was that, while it appears simplistic, Peter portrayed conflicting contrasts - beautiful photography versus life's harsh reality.

Peter Bialobrzeski shot the Case Study Homes series at the Baseco compound (“Bataan Shipyard Corporation Compound”), a squatter camp located at the mouth of the River Pasig near the Port of Manila, in February 2008. This neighborhood, 300 ha of unsafe, unstable subsoil of a former dump site, is home to an estimated 70,000 people. Around 45 per cent of the more than 11 million inhabitants of Greater Manila currently live in such squatter camps and slums. The pictures of this photographic investigation follow a strict composition. The self-made shacks of old slats and posts, covers, roofing cardboard, corrugated metal and all kinds of cloth fill out each picture in its entirety, like in a portrait. In many cases the photographer chose a slanted front view, displaying both the front and one side wall of the house. Pure front perspectives are rare, as are two or more buildings in one picture. The soft natural light of the clouded sky makes for even lighting, without stark light and shadow contrasts. Pictures showing people beside the buildings are the exception (as in one case, where a smiling resident sits in the doorframe of his shack, pointing out the small size of the building; but even he can be made out only at second sight).

Bialobrzeski’s approach with the Case Study Homes reminds one of the photographic series of Bernd and Hilla Becher, who created the paradigmatic works on the typology of “Nomadic architecture”, especially industrial buildings. Bialobrzeski, however, counters the Bechers’ demonstratively objective position in several ways: The topic itself – the shack built from gathered materials – defies the rule of the series or type. These buildings bear an anarchical, piratic, improvised appearance. Beyond walls and roofs, there are no laws governing the composition of a typical Baseco house. Every builder-inhabitant finds his or her own solutions for their abodes by use of what only looks like rubbish. The kind of pile dwelling typically found in Asia does seem to play a certain role, though.

What is more, Peter Bialobrzeski here as in all of his previous series uses color photography. From a Westerner’s perspective the makeshift dwellings with their colorful tarpaulins and converted advertising billboards turn into works of art, they are collages of color and diversity. Despite this artistic staging it remains very clear, however, that the pictures document a lot of people’s real living circumstances. Viewers of Bialobrzeski’s earlier series have experienced this before; the artful and multicolored compositions of Asian megacities in the Neontigers (2000-2002) series, for instance, were highly attractive on a visual level, while the reality of life depicted in them alienated many a viewer. Case Study Homes in this sense complements not only the Neontigers series, but also Lost in Transition (2004-2005) and the nostalgic Heimat series (2002-2005).

Read more here.

To view Peter's complete series, click here.

Peter Bialobrzeski's Case Study Home is part of 'Case Studies ' (with Oliver Boberg) currently on exhibit at LA Galerie, Lothar Albrecht, Domstrasse 6, 60311 Frankfurt, Germany. Exhibition is until the 23 May 2009.


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