Peter Bialobrzeski chats to us about Give My Regards to Elizabeth, his documentation of 90s Britain

The German photographer spent time in the UK after finishing his studies and captured a country divided by class.

Date
8 September 2020
Reading Time
3 minute read

Share

When asked what it is that draws him to photography, it’s a simple answer for Hamburg-based photographer Peter Bialobrzeski: “I can’t paint.” Well, that and “I like the simplicity of working without a big team.” While this answer doesn’t give too much away, Peter is clearly highly accomplished in his chosen field – he has published around 20 photo books in the past two decades or so; his work has been exhibited across Europe, the US, Asia, Africa and Australia; and he’s been the recipient of several awards, including the prestigious World Press Photo Award in 2003 and 2010.

The project which led us to Peter’s portfolio, however, is his most recent, titled Give My Regards to Elizabeth. Published by Dewi Lewis, it’s a record of Peter’s time in England during the 1990s when, having graduated from the Folkwang School in Essen, he was awarded a one-year DAAD stipend at London College of Communication.

“Germany was then experiencing a booming, optimistic post-unification economy, whilst the UK was a country and an economy still in recession, with growing unemployment and declining optimism,” Peter explains. “Thatcherite capitalism had left its deep marks on people and places. For me, the UK seemed to still be a class-ridden society, something that I had not previously experienced in Germany.”

The images, which depict days out at the races, the pub (with Lizzie looking down, of course), hunting, kids hanging about on street corners, and somewhat melancholy days at the beach, feel like a Martin Parr-esque compendium of stereotypical British life. They are nostalgic yet somewhat droll in their depiction of such canonical British activities. But that was Peter’s experience at the time, he explains, telling us he hopes the images help the audience understand the way he “looked at things back then”. In turn, the book itself is almost an exact copy of two hand-bound dummies that Peter originally created 27 years ago, allowing us to fully understand his interpretation of his stint in the UK.

What stands out in the series is Peter’s subtle yet adept documentation of the class divisions he witnessed. In one image, children play on a street with graffiti on the walls of decrepit buildings, while in another, young men party dressed to the nines, clearly attendees of a prestigious institution. These images are then interweaved throughout Give My Regards to Elizabeth, creating an unsettling but altogether accurate depiction of the divisions that arose in Thatcher’s Britain.

The work is clearly influenced by British colour photography of the 1980s, with Peter stating that he still references the work of Martin Parr, Paul Graham and Tony Ray Jones, as well as American photographers such as Mitch Epstein, Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld in his practice today.

In its description of the project, Dewi Lewis remarks how Give My Regards to Elizabeth presents “a fascinating historical document. In some images, one can already see the ideas and visual concepts that would, 20 books and numerous exhibitions later, result in Bialobrzeski establishing his reputation as one of today’s leading European photographers.”

Looking ahead, Peter is unable to tell us about several projects he’s working on, large and small. Yet one thing he can reveal is that he’ll continue to work on his City Diaries series, a project in which he beautifully documents the world’s major cities, often at a pivotal time in their history.

GalleryPeter Bialobrzeski: Give My Regards to Elizabeth (Copyright © Peter Bialobrzeski)

Hero Header

Peter Bialobrzeski: Give My Regards to Elizabeth (Copyright © Peter Bialobrzeski)

Share Article

About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.

rbd@itsnicethat.com

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.