Neon Tigers by Peter Bialobrzeski (Hatje Cantz)



There are some days when words just don't work their magic. Maybe it's a blockage caused by a bad cold or a week of thick and damp clouds or a small financial disaster--or maybe all three at one time. Or perhaps it's the depression caused by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar followed by a 7.9 on the Richter scale earthquake in Sichuan. Whatever the cause, there's a sogginess of the mind as a result and even the most devoted print addict finds nothing appealing about any sentence on any page. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's a state that is very close to being in hell.

There are other ways to find diversions, a movie on dvd, music, a bottle of good Scotch, but for a biblioholic nothing is as satisfying as a comfortable chair and the weight of a book in hand. Yet sometimes when it comes to absorbing the content of printed words, "between the motion and the act falls the shadow" as that venerable bookworm T.S. Eliot memorably put it.

This is what big, expensive, glorious coffee-table books were invented for--the ones put on Christmas gift lists that are handed to affluent, generous relatives. They are the volumes that rest in splendor on the lowest shelf of the bookcase where their weight won't cause the entire structure to sag and crumble. They are the panaceas that should be kept with first aid kits and fire extinguishers under the label "for emergency use only." They are the books that we turn to when words fail us.

Richard and Mimi Farina once sang "Now in this age of confusion I have need for your company" and that is exactly the way I felt yesterday when I pulled Peter Bialobrzeski's Neon Tigers off the bookshelf and onto my lap. This man is a genius, an artist, and a magician who has taken a huge, unwieldy, outdated camera to Asia and has used it to transform urban landscapes that are often quite unlovely and unlovable into marvels of light and color and the stuff that dreams and fantasies are made of.

Bangkok's concrete gloom is wrapped in pink and violet light, the kind that envelops the city briefly before sunset and is captured to live forever in these pages. The playful geometry of a Mondrian painting lightens Singapore's grim efficiency, turning the city's buildings into patterns of delight and amazing beauty. Shanghai's canyons and pinnacles rival Manhattan's, taking on a grandeur that's usually found only in natural landscapes, while its elevated expressways float and curve and glitter like flying beasts of legend, hovering in a world of eternal l'heure bleu. The mass and power of Hongkong stands in stark contrast to its emerging rival, Shenzhen, which gleams with a newly-minted radiance and an alluring energy.

People are seldom seen. They appear quickly in a cluster of motorcycles on a Kuala Lumpur street, or as they wade in a park pool in that same city, with the greenery of their surroundings encircled by skyscrapers and construction cranes, or poised in fashionable affluence in a forest of Shanghai billboards. Humans are merely the extras in these pictures; buildings are the stars of a new world where the unnatural takes precedence over that which is natural This is,as Bialobrzeski says in a brief but eloquent essay, "a futuristic urban wonderland, where you feel you are part of a stage design for Blade Runner...which is incredibly fascinating and with all its contradictions makes you think."

This is what makes his work comforting in a time when there seems to be little comfort for many and when nature has turned upon those who have become its easy victims. What he admits can be seen as "the ultimate urban nightmare" is shown as the realized dream that these cities are, and the force of the natural world for an instant loses its frightening and destructive power. And suddenly, without words to intrude, we are able to take refuge for a moment in the magic of a pre-literate time, when fairy tales seemed as real to us as any other event that we were told of, and "ice-cream castles filled the air."

You can see some of Peter Bialorzeski's photographs for Neon Tigers at http://www.laurencemillergallery.com/bialobrzeski_exhibition.htm