The New British/The New Londoners

The world in a city

 

“We are 35 in and have about 165 to go – I am committed to this project long term … but I think Nauru might prove a challenge!” exclaims Chris Steele-Perkins, explaining his project ‘The New Londoners’ to us from his base at Magnum Photos in Old Street, London.

Chris is a world-famous photographer who has works in the collections of the Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery. He has decided to take portrait photographs of immigrant families (in the very different forms that families take) from every country in the world now residing in the greater London area – hence the “165 to go”. These portraits, at once both intimate and intriguing, are all made in these families’ homes, to give consistency and insight into their lives: a kind of ‘sitting room ethnography’ – anthropology of the 21st century in a city increasingly characterised by super-diversity.

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Ethiopian mother Gelaye Unwin, with her daughters Hannah (12) and Menron (11)

“This project started off with a focus on families originally from conflict zones settling in London, but as is often the way it has evolved thematically – I wanted it to encompass the phenomenon of migration more broadly.” A phenomenon Chris describes in the project blurb as a ‘seismic shift’ in our national landscape.

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Yousofi family, from Afghanistan, now living in Camden

 

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The Hellem family from Norway: mother (Monica), father (Aage) and daughter (Thea). Aage: ‘I think I see myself as Norwegian, but also more of a Londoner than an Englishman.’ Monica: ‘I think I am at a stage where I am annoyed by tourists – can I now define myself as a Londoner?!’

Chris is interested in the shift in mentality that accompanies urbanisation in an age of globalisation: “People start to see their identity more closely aligned with the city that they live in rather than the country within which that city is located.” Indeed, the interviews that are the backdrop for the growing group of portraits show a dialogue between photographer and subjects in which changing ideas of national identity, opinions about London, persistence of links back ‘home’ and future migratory plans are the unifying focus.

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Marching: wife, Indonesia Angus: husband, Australia Marching: ‘We were married in Australia. They tried to kick me out as I had cancer … ’ Angus: ‘That is part of the reason I love living here – I think this country has a much more humane and enlightened immigration policy than Australia does. The NHS is another thing that I am grateful to this country for.’ Marching is now in the clear.

The project has grown through word of mouth and adverts in foreign-language publications here in London. The warmth emanating from many of the quirky portraits – some natural and some more stylised – is testament to the strength of bonds between family members and trust in the skilled photographer these subjects have allowed into their homes and their lives.

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Marlena and sister Wioleta Wojttasik from Poland, with Marlena’s boyfriend, Chris Rossiter, in the girls’ flat. Marlena: ‘We have friends from different countries here: Bulgaria, from England, even from Jordan – many different nationalities.’ Wioleta: ‘I still think of myself as Polish because I can’t forget my background and family over there. In the future if I have my own child I will speak to them in Polish, even if I have an English husband … I would like to share my culture with my child.’

The grand plan is for this project to be curated as a record to the shifting cultural landscape of London at the start of the 21st century. Chris is in discussions with the British Library about the possibility of its ultimately archiving the fruits of his creative enterprise.

In the meantime, the mission to photograph people representing all 200 United Nations recognised nations (and a few extra besides) continues!

If you would like to participate in this project for free, and get a signed copy of your family to boot, or if you know someone else who might be an interesting fit, please get in touch with Chris and his team – he would love to hear from you!

More details:
http://chrissteeleperkins.com/portfolio/portraits/new-british/

Contact: chrissteeleperkins@hotmail.com

New book:
A Place in the Country: A year in the life of Holkham Estate in Norfolk, published by Dewi Lewis
Recent books:
Fading Light: A portrait of British centenarians, published by McNidder and Grace
England, My England, published by McNidder and Grace
Northern Exposures, published by McNidder and Grace
Tokyo Love Hello, published by Editions Intervalles

Available from selected bookshops and Amazon

site: http://chrissteeleperkins.com/              instagram: #steeleperkins