Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Nail Houses

First things first: How Peter Bialobrzeski framed his pics of nail houses in lower Shanghai is impressive. I thought his idea to place many of them against a background of modern highrises very convincing.

Nail houses are not, as I had unthinkingly assumed, made essentially of nails. A 'nail house' is a home where the owner refuses to accept compensation from a property developer for its demolition, I read in the Guardian.

The text that introduces this formidable tome comes in bad German and even worse English. Here's an example: "Alles mutiert, nichts ist fixiert. Wir glauben nicht an Raumordnung" reads in English as: "Everything is in constant mutation, nothing is set as a fixity. We don't follow any spatial models." May I suggest an alternative? Here it is: "Das einzig Beständige ist der Wandel. Raumordnungen respektieren wir nicht." In English: "The only permanent thing is change. We do not respect land use planning."
Copyright @ Peter Bialobrzeski / Hatje Cantz

Peter Bialobrzeski is one of the leading German documentary photographers, I read on his website. Moreover: "He is also a professor at the University of the Arts in Bremen". Given this I find it rather astonishing that this book misses completely what documentary photography essentially is all about: pictures with words.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy spending time with the pictures in this book that were, I'm told on the photographer's website but not in the book, "mainly photographed in the middle of the night." Why did he do that? Might he have encountered difficulties during the day?

With these images Peter Bialobrzeski demonstrates how the old has to give way to the new. By juxtaposing the old and the new he has made change visible and given the viewer quite some food for thought.

Peter Bialobrzeski
or the Destruction of Lower Shanghai
Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2014

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