email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
1000 Families2 ¼32 Stories365 Days51 Months5x7A Child's Life and Other StoriesA Couple of Ways of Doing SomethingA Lifetime of SecretsA Storybook LifeA Treasury of Victorian MurderActing OutAddiction and ArtAEIOUAfter PhotographyAliveAlive with Alzheimer'sAlone Together POCAltered StatesAmazing WomenAmelia's WorldAmerica at HomeAmerican AlphabetsAmnesiaAn American LensAn Exact MindAngel's WorldAngry Youth Comix #2Anjos ProibidosAnthony GoicoleaArchitecture of AuthorityArt After Conceptual ArtArt and HomosexualityArt and PhotographyArt in Three DimensionsArt Photography NowArt, Self and KnowledgeArt/PornAs We AreAsylumAttitudeAutoportraitBecoming Edvard MunchBeg the QuestionBelugaBerkoBig Rabbit's Bad MoodBill HensonBlab!Blab! 13BLAB! Vol. 14BLAB! Vol. 15BlanketsBoneyardBoneyardBoy StoriesBreakdownsBright EarthBrüselBurn, Bitchy, BurnBus OdysseyBut Is It Art?CanvasCaricatureChildrenChris VereneChristy ReportCinema PanopticumClass PicturesClick DoubleclickCloserClumsyClyde Fans CoincidencesComing of AgeComing of Age in Ancient GreeceConceptual Art and PaintingConfessions of a Cereal EaterConsider LoveCouch FictionCrumpleCzech EdenCzech Photographic Avant-Garde, 1918-1948Dan & LarryDargerDays With My FatherDead EndDear MomDeus Ex MachinaDigital DiariesDirty StoriesDisasters of WarDixie RoadDomestic VacationsDon't Go Where I Can't FollowDon't You Feel BetterDr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeDrawingsDriftlessEarly ExposuresEcstasyEdouard VuillardEnduring CreationEngland, My EnglandEntering GermanyEpilepticErwin OlafEscape from "Special"EVAEverything Will DisappearEvidenceExploring the Self through PhotographyExposureExpressionism Exquisite CorpseFamilyFamilyFamily LifeFandomaniaFaster than a Speeding BulletFictionsFigure and GroundFragile DVDFred the ClownFreud at WorkFridaFrom Girls to GrrlzFun HomeGeneration DadaGirl CultureGirls, Some Boys and Other CookiesGoing Into TownGood-ByeGraphic WomenGrave MattersH R GigerHans BellmerHappy Halloween, Li'L SantaHauntedHere Is New YorkHey, Wait...High Art LiteHollywood CowboyHouse of JavaI Am Not This BodyI Love You But I've Chosen RockI Thought I Could FlyI'll Be Your MirrorI'm CrazyIllumineIn My Darkest HourIn Search Of DignityIn the Floyd ArchivesIn the Line of DutyInformation ArtsIntenseInvisible No MoreIt Was A Dark And Silly NightJack Cole and Plastic ManJimmy CorriganJock SturgesJock SturgesJust Between UsKafkaKatharina SieverdingLacan at the SceneLaura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your MonsterLife's a BitchLight in the Dark RoomLine of Beauty and GraceListening to CementLittle LitLi’l SantaLoadsLooking For MayaLost GirlLouis FaurerLouise BourgeoisLove and DesireLove Lust DesireLuckyManufactured LandscapesMass ObservationMaster BreastsMetacreationMisty DawnMnemosyneMomeMona KuhnMy Brain is Hanging Upside DownMy DepressionMy Family AlbumNatural BeautiesNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew and Used BLAB!New York September 11Night FisherNightswimmingNo More ShavesNot My ShameNotes from a DefeatistNothing ObviousNothing to HideNudes and PortraitsOliviaOlivia Saves the CircusOn City StreetsOne EyeOnly a Promise of HappinessOptic NerveOptic Nerve #11Optic Nerve #9Outlaws, Rebels, Freethinkers & PiratesOutsider ArtOutsider Art and Art TherapyPanic at Toad HallPatrolPaul M. SmithPeculiaPeekPeople Love PhotosPerfect ExamplePersepolisPhilosophersPhonesexPhoto ArtPhoto Icons I (1827-1926)Photographers, Writers, and the American ScenePhotography and LiteraturePhotography and PhilosophyPhotography and SciencePhotography and the USA Photography RebornPicturing DisabilityPlaytimePOPismPortraits of ResiliencePostmodernismPsychedelicQuestions without answersRaptors Raw YouthRay's a LaughRazmatazReclining NudeRed SnowRemembering GeorgyRequisite DistanceRineke DijkstraRippleRobert Doisneau 1912-1994Robert MaxwellRoom to PlaySame Difference & Other StoriesSanctumSatan's Sex BookSatellitesSchizophreniaSee Me Feel MeSelf-Taught and Outsider ArtSexSexual ArtSexyBookShadow ChamberSidewalk StoriesSkin DeepSleepwalkSmall FavorsSmile of the BuddhaSpectral EvidenceSpentSshhhh!Stranded in CantonStrange Stories for Strange Kids Stranger PassingStripped BareSummer BlondeSurrealismSymbols in ArtTestimonyThe Aesthetics of DisengagementThe AlcoholicThe Art InstinctThe Art of Adolf WolfliThe Art of MedicineThe BabiesThe Birthday RiotsThe Blue Day BookThe Blue NotebookThe BodyThe Body as ProtestThe Boulevard of Broken DreamsThe Breast BookThe Breathing FieldThe Bristol Board JungleThe Clouds AboveThe Devil and Daniel JohnstonThe Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Education of SophieThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Face in the LensThe Illustrated Story of OThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Madonna of the FutureThe Mirror of LoveThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New LifeThe Other PlaceThe Philosophy of Andy WarholThe Places We LiveThe Psychology of Art and the Evolution of the Conscious BrainThe Push Man and Other StoriesThe Scar of VisibilityThe September 11 Photo ProjectThe Shiniest JewelThe Speed AbaterThe Steerage and Alfred StieglitzThe Story of Frog Belly Rat BoneThe Story of SexThe Stuff of LifeThe Three ParadoxesThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Transparent CityThe TravelersThe ValleyThe Van Gogh BluesThe Wolves in the WallsThe Yellow HouseThinThings as They AreThinking of YouTierney GearonTime and SilenceTina's MouthTits, Ass, and Real EstateTransitionTrauma and Documentary Photography of the FSATravelersTropical BlendTwentieth Century EightballTwilightUnlikelyVagina WarriorsVernacular VisionariesVietnam At PeaceVisual CultureVitamin PhWar Is Only Half the StoryWhat Are You Looking At?What Art IsWhat Good Are the Arts?What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally MannWho Am I, What Am I, Where Am I?William KentridgeWillie DohertyWithWriters on ArtistsYoung PhotographerZip Zip My Brain Harts
This selection of photographs of England by Chris Steele-Perkins stems from 1969 up to 2008, most of his lifetime. It's an impressive collection of work, highlighting themes of class and race with pictures that evoke considerable empathy for the disenfranchised and more mixed feelings for the ruling classes. One might compare it with the work of Martin Parr, whose photographs of England are often deeply conscious of class. There's an obvious difference in the styles of the two photographers: while Parr's work nearly always has a sense of mockery of its subjects, no matter who the subject is, Steele-Perkins shows minorities in ways that makes them very human and sympathetic to the viewer. His stance to the white working class is a little more ambivalent, while his pictures of the middle and upper classes has more obvious judgment and hostility. Steele-Perkins himself was born in Rangoon (Yangon) in Myanmar, moving to England when he was a child, and his heritage marked as him as different, which helps to explain his interest in areas of English life that otherwise tend to go undocumented.
One can get a sense of how distinctive the work of Chris Steel-Perkins is by browsing the blog of "We English" by Simon Roberts, a project he ran from April 2008 to March 2010, creating a book of photographs on English life and also referring to many other photographic records of England. In addition to Parr, Roberts refers to the work of, among others, Don McCullin, Bill Brandt, Tom Wood, Homer Sykes, and Jane Brown. They record English traditions and eccentricities, and some document the mundane and dreary parts of life, with some humor. Many have a strong class consciousness, but they present a side of England that will be familiar to most people who have spend any significant time in the UK. Steel-Perkins gives us a record of the less familiar side.
Consider just the first 4 years of the collection, all in black and white: there are pictures of a black woman and her three daughters in Brixton from 1973, the Brixton Reggae Festival from 1974 showing a sea of black faces, a black man wearing a British Rail jacket in a darkly lit pub looking at a slot machine in a Brixton bar from 1974, various street festivals in London from 1974 and 1975, two mothers and children having tea at a battered women's home in Newcastle-upon-Tyne from 1975, a line of women dancing at a community center party in Middlesborough from 1975, Teddy Boys in London pubs in 1976, and two girls fighting in a London pub car park with men smiling looking on. These pictures are full of curiosity and care, showing an England that is both more modern and more primitive than one expects. Private life looks grim and isolated, with self-satisfied middle and upper classes oblivious of the lives of others struggling with poverty and oppression. These set the stage for the later 1970s and early 1980s, with the rise of the skinhead movement, punk music, the Queen's silver jubilee, and white working class clubs and leisure pursuits.
It is in the late 1980s that Steel-Perkins starts using color with his book The Pleasure Principle. Some of his best known images are from this time: the rich at play, conservative politicians and the white middle and lower classes are all made to look ridiculous. These images have power, and they give an initial thrill if you share their sentiments, but ultimately they are the weakest in the book.
The work from the last two decades steer away from obvious politicizing, and are more subtle. He includes pictures of his own family, some of which are striking and moving, and some which seem somewhat irrelevant and out of place in the larger body of work. There's a move towards whimsy -- especially in a picture of men ready for a run in London in 2008 standing in a line at a fence. They are peeing, but the humor comes from the fact that one is wearing a silly animal costume with a large tail behind him, and one seems to be looking over at another man's penis. It is a nice diversion, but the really strong pictures are still of people who are disadvantaged or suffering. There's a very moving image from 2009 of a 15 year old girl standing in her kitchen, looking completely exhausted; the caption explains that she helps to look after her ill mother. Another of a little girl with Cerebral Palsy is delightful: she is laughing because there are some lcd fairy lights dangled over her face. We are not led to feel pity for her at all; rather we are inspired by the joy she experiences.
This collection shows that Steele-Perkins is one of the major documenters of English life in the last forty years. His work from the 1970s may be his most enduring contribution, but his much of his recent work is also very impressive. This well-produced book will be of great interest to readers who follow photography of modern social life.
Link: Chris Steele-Perkins website
© 2010 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York