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.
“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.
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.
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.
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!
A Place in the Country: A year in the life of Holkham Estate in Norfolk, published by Dewi Lewis
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