There is a probably apocryphal story of an Observer news journalist who, when asked to write an impressionistic feature story, was told to “make sure it has plenty of colour”. When the story came in, it was his standard news copy except that every noun had an accompanying adjective from a child’s crayon set: “blue sky”, “green trees”, “black tarmac”, “yellow sun”.
I was reminded of that story when looking through Peter Bialobrzeski’s pictures of the aftermath of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, all taken in 1991 and 1992. If we were ever tempted to view those post-industrial years in political black and white, Biaolobrzeski’s pictures insist on colouring them in. They retain a saturated bleakness all the same.
Biaolobrzeski came to the contrasts of those years as an outsider, working in England on assignment from his native Germany. This photograph was taken at Epsom racetrack. The young women in their silk frocks appear to be cast in a parody of the nation’s perennial costume drama. Like many of the subjects of Biaolobrzeski’s retrospective book, Give My Regards to Elizabeth – which includes images from Coventry housing estates and British Legion parades, knackered funfairs and Oxford balls – they cling, in that annus horribilis, to their tribe.
Looking back Biaolobrzeski suggests that the photographs reflect a personal moment: “When I left Germany, I left a booming economy in a country which had just been reborn as a nation,” he recalls. “In England I found an economy deep in recession, [and] a certain type of sadness in people’s faces, a kind of frustration stretching throughout the whole of society. I felt privileged to be German, not because I am a nationalist, but because I was born into a society which was less class-ridden and cared more for the individual. For the first time in 30-odd years I felt a kind of pride in being German.”
Give My Regards to Elizabeth is published by Hartmann/Dewi Lewis (£34)