Luminous-Lint - for collectors and connoisseurs of fine photography
HOME  BACK>>> Subscriptions <<< | Testimonials | Login | FREE NEWSLETTER

Getting around

 

HomeContentsVisual IndexesOnline ExhibitionsPhotographersGalleries and DealersThemes
AbstractEroticaFashionLandscapeNaturePhotojournalismPhotomontagePictorialismPortraitScientificStill lifeStreetWar
CalendarsTimelinesTechniquesLibrarySupport 
 

HomeContents > People > Photographers > Chris Steele-Perkins

Names:
Joint: Exit Photography Group 
Dates:  1947, 28 July -
Born:  Burma, Rangoon
Active:  UK
 
  
English contemporary photojournalist, documentary photographer and member of Magnum.

Preparing biographies

Further research

 
 Premium content for those who want to understand photography
 
References are available for subscribers.There is so much more to explore when you subscribe. 
Subscriptions 
 
Portraits 
  
If you have a portrait of this photographer or know of the whereabouts of one we would be most grateful. 
  
alan@luminous-lint.com
 
  
Family history 
  
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch. 
  
alan@luminous-lint.com
 
  
 
  

Exhibitions on this website

Contemporary photographers
ThumbnailChris Steele-Perkins: An Evolving Retrospective 
PhVTitle | Lightbox | Checklist 
Thanks to Chris Steele-Perkins and Magnum Photos for their assistance with this exhibition.
ThumbnailChris Steele-Perkins: England, My England 
PhVTitle | Lightbox | Checklist
 
  

Visual indexes

 
 Premium content for those who want to understand photography
 
Visual indexes for this photographer are available for subscribers.There is so much more to explore when you subscribe. 
Subscriptions 
 
  

Supplemental information

 
Chris Steele-Perkins moved to England with his father at the age of two. He went to school at Christ's Hospital. At the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he studied psychology and worked for the student newspaper, graduating with honors in 1970 when he started working as a freelance photographer, moving to London in 1971. Apart from a trip to Bangladesh in 1973 he worked mainly in Britain in areas concerned with urban poverty and also sub-cultures. In 1975 he worked with EXIT, a collective dealing with social problems in British cities. This work culminated in the book Survival Programmes in 1982. He joined the Paris-based Viva agency in 1976. In 1979, he published his first solo book, The Teds. He also edited, and purchased the images for, The Arts Council of Great Britain"s book, About 70 Photographs.
 
Steele-Perkins joined Magnum in 1979 and soon began working extensively in the developing world, in particular Africa, Central America and Lebanon, as well as continuing to document Britain. He published, The Pleasure Principle, a work exploring Britain in the 80's. In 1992 he published Afghanistan, the result of four trips over four years. After marrying his second wife, Miyako Yamada, he embarked on a long term photographic exploration of Japan publishing his first book of that work, Fuji, in 2000. A highly personal diary of 2001, Echoes, was published in 2003, and the second of his Japanese books, Tokyo Love Hello, was published in February 2007.
 
Two sons; Cedric Steele-Perkins, dob 16/11/90; Cameron Steele-Perkins, dob 18/6/92
 
Married to Miyako Yamada, (Japanese) 17/7/99
 
Member, Magnum Photos 1982
President, Magnum Photos 1997-99
 
Selected exhibitions
 
2007 'Northern Exposures', Northumbria University Gallery
2007 'Tokyo', Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo (group)
2005 'North,South, East, West', Science Museum, London (group)
2005 'Coast Exposed', National Maritme Museum, London (group)
2005 'Echoes', Leica gallery, Tokyo
2005 'Eurovisions', Beaubourg, Paris (group)
2004 'The Teds', Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
2003 'The Teds', 292 Gallery, New York
2003 'Mt Fuji', Darlington Arts Centre, Darlington
2003 'Mt Fuji', Pierce Hall Art Gallery, Halifax
2003 'Mt Fuji', National Theatre, London
2002 'Mt Fuji', MAC (Midlands Arts Centre), Birmingham
2002 'Mt Fuji', Gainsborough's House
2002 'Mt Fuji', Impressions Gallery, York
2002 'Mt Fuji', Grandship, Shizuoka, Japan
2000 'Afghanistan', Ffotogallery, Cardiff
2000 'Afghanistan', Side Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne
1999 'Robert Capa Gold Medal Winners Exhibition', Touring Japan (group)
1999 'Nomansland' Photo Gallery International, Tokyo
1999 'Afghanistan', Perpignan Festival, France
1993 'Cross-section', Hong Kong Festival
1992 'Africa, work in progress', Perpignan, France
1990 'The Pleasure Principle', FNAC, Paris
 
Collections
 
Arts Council of Great Britain
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Photographers' Gallery, London
Side Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne
Corcoran Gallery, Washington
National Gallery of Victoria, Australia
Bibiotheque National, Paris
FNAC, Paris
Tokyo Fuji Art Museum
National Portrait Gallery, London
National Media Museum, Bradford
Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin
 
Awards
 
2004 Sasakawa Foundation (grant)
2000 Visiting Professor, Musashino Art University, Tokyo
2000 World Press Award, 'Daily Life'
1999 Sasakawa Foundation (grant)
1994 'Cooperative Society Award' & 'One World Award', for the film 'Dying for Publicity'
1994 'La Nacion Premier Photojournalism Award'
1990 'Gahan Lectureship', Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts (unable to accept)
1989 'Robert Capa Gold Medal', ICP, New York
1988 'Oskar Barnak Award', World Press, Holland
1988 'Tom Hopkinson Award', Photographers' Gallery, London
 
Publications
 
2007 Northern Exposures, Northumbria University Press
2007 Tokyo Love Hello, Editions Intervalles, France
2003 Echoes, Trolley, UK
2002 The Teds (reissue), Dewi Lewis Publishing, UK
2001 Fuji, Umbrage, USA
2000 Afghanistan, Westzone Publishing, UK
1992 St Thomas' Hospital, St Thomas' Hospital, UK
1989 The Pleasure Principle, Cornerhouse Books, UK
1982 Survival Programmes: In Britain's Inner Cities (with Nicholas Battye and Paul Trevor), Open University Press, UK
1983 Beirut Frontline Story (with Caroline Tisdale and Selim Nasib), Pluto Press, UK
1979 The Teds, Travelling Light, UK
 
Afghanistan - Text for an exhibition
 
I was drawn to Afghanistan after having visited it for the first time on assignment for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in 1994. Who knows why exactly one place fascinates and absorbs you and another leaves you relatively indifferent? All I know was that Afghanistan and its people got into my blood stream like a virus and drew me back there again three more times.
 
I have always been fascinated by that which is different, far removed from the life and ways I know as a middle-class Englishman. Photography is my tool for exploring these different worlds, and Afghanistan was a very different world: wild, medieval, cruel, clever, beautiful, gracious, generous and extraordinary. In my book, Afghanistan, I wrote - It is impossible to be indifferent to Afghanistan. Its magic and madness rip through any posture of detachment. I know of nobody who has been there who does not have strong feelings generated by the encounter.
 
Recent events in Afghanistan have given my work there a new relevance, as my interest and concern with that country has become shared by the whole world. People who never knew Afghanistan existed certainly do now. People who knew it existed, but never knew where it was, do now. Yet people still know so little.
 
What people do know about Afghanistan is that it is a troubled place, and indeed it has been for a long time, and is further troubled now. Inevitably the trouble was the focus of most reporting; that is the nature of journalism. It is what first brought me there too. But I wanted to look beyond the troubles, the war, the destruction, and photograph the wider culture: to look at the way people worked and lived their lives and the rhythms of the year. To look at their joys as well as their sorrows. To try to build a picture of a whole peoples, not simply to reinforce the stereotype of war.
 
I could not ignore the war and its immediate consequences of displacement, sorrow and pain, and did not do so, but I also wanted to travel in the peaceful areas - for there were many peaceful areas - and photograph there too.
 
Now America and the West have intervened in Afghanistan and brought more suffering on the people there; more destruction on the existing destruction; driven more people from their deserted homes. America intervened before in 1979 to counter the invasion of the Soviet Union. Then they had armed and trained the Afghans and other islamic opponents of the Soviets - including their old friend and ally, Osama Bin Laden. Then, once their purpose was over, and the Soviets withdrew in humiliation in 1989, the Americans walked away from their friends and heroes, the Mujahadeen, who had defeated the Soviet war machine at the cost of hundreds of thousand of Afghan lives. The American walked away from their friends for they were no longer useful to them. Do we wonder that some people do not like them? They left a power vacuum in which the Mujahadeen, who had been united in fighting the Soviets, now fought amongst each other for power, creating chaos.
 
The chaos of those times laid the groundwork for the rise of the Taliban, the fundamentalist movement that America is now fighting, for the Taliban offered the precious promise of peace to people who desperately wanted it. Many welcomed these religious warriors, for indeed they did, initially, bring some peace and stability. Neighbouring Pakistan welcomed them and supported them and so, in the beginning, did America. The Taliban's extremist ways were to become as unpalatable as the chaos that they claimed to replace. The tyranny of religious fundamentalism replaced the tyranny of anarchy. They isolated themselves from , and were isolated by, the West. They became a haven for terrorists. The people that America had trained to fight the Soviets and called Freedom Fighter, now turned on the Americans as imperialists of a different kind from the Soviets. Imperialists who desecrated their holy lands in Saudi Arabia with their weapons, who desecrated the holy lands of Palestine with their support of the Israelis in crushing the Palestinians. That is how some of the Freedom Fighters, came to see it.
 
We can only speculate as to what would have happened if the West had made serious efforts to aid and rebuild Afghanistan as a stable and reasonably prosperous country. It could have been done. Afghanistan had a great tradition for learning and arts, a great culture, which could have been rebuilt in some form. If America had not walked away from its friends would the Taliban have come to power? Would Bin Laden have found safe haven there? Would Sept 11th have happened?
 
We cannot chage the past, we only have the present and the dream of the future. What is the future for Afghanistan? The American seem to see it in terms of returning the Northern Alliance to power. But the Northern Alliance are the very people whose corruption and infighting brought the Taliban to power. They have nothing to offer but more of the same. Will the West give all the promised aid and assistance it now offers to lavish on Afghanistan once its purpose of destroying Bin Laden is over? Will it really keep its promises? Can the Afghan people be anything but cynical over these promises? Can it be any wonder that people so damaged by the politics of power look inward to seek the pure hand of a merciful god?
 
On my first visit to Afghanistan I went to a one legged bicycle race. It seemed a strange event to me, but then I realised how many people are one legged due mainly to land mine explosions. It was a joyful occasion, a rejection of self-pity for an affirmation of life. I don't know who won , and I don't think any one cared. Afterwards people moved to a nearby mosque. They prayed, they read poems. Afghans love poetry, as they love flowers. I recorded some as I was filming for a short documentary I was making for television. A young man, maybe 20 years old, limped up to the microphone,
 
This war has taken my legs
Only my hands remain to me.
Like me there are many others;
Some without legs, some without hands.
Day and night I cry for what has happened.
I ask if peace will ever come again?
I want this country to rise from its ashes.
We do not want to dig more graves
But we are powerless.
God save us from further destruction.
In God's name, In God's name, In God's name.
We are tired of this war.
Let us forget war and speak of peace.
Let us be happy again.
 
Fuji - Introduction
 
What makes me want to photograph? The ground shifts as I age. Once it seemed clear: it was to do with adventure, beauty and discovery. It was to give expression to my experiences, to give shape to a world with which I was unfamiliar, a world waiting to be explored.
 
As an oriental-looking, middle-class English boy with no great gifts, I found a niche through the small magic of light and technology that is photography. I took off to explore the unfamiliar, here in my own culture, looking at what Englishness was and how I was part of that, and I traveled extensively within the developing world as a photojournalist.
 
In those years of wandering I saw the limits of the human state. I moved within a no man's land of cultures forming, evolving, collapsing, drawing the stench of death into my lungs, listening to howls of loss, and hearing the coughing, coughing of dying children. I saw men sink below and rise above themselves in acts of extremity beyond my experience.
 
There I raised my camera to my bewildered eye.
 
Once it had seemed clear. Those same ideas and yearnings are still there, but now experience and doubt obscure my view and reduce my will to participate much further in the journey through this harsh landscape. The hold remains strong but I have witnessed too much suffering and remain impotent to resolve it. Now I doubt my ability to make a real difference with my work to what I witness. If some of the documents I have made are beautiful and memorable, they serve more as an offering to history than as instruments of change.
 
I still want to search for the new, to celebrate the world and its people; for despite its horrors and my own bouts of gloom, it remains a glorious thing to be human.
 
Out of the morning came Japan. Here was a place that drew me with a different power from the confrontational intensities of the developing world. In Japan I felt I was looking in an oddly distorted mirror where I saw reflections I felt I recognised, heard echoes I thought I understood, drank from a cup from which I might have drunk before.
 
I was drawn into this strangely familiar land by another thread - mysterious, beautiful and irresistible. It was Miyako, my wife, who triggered this work on Fuji. I was bound to explore the land that had made this luminous lady possible. She gave me a book of prints, 36 Views of Mt Fuji, by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. I knew a few images, for they are world famous, but the body of work had an immediate impact. They formed a document of great beauty and wit grounded in the reality of the human drama, that clearly spoke of the Japan of the early nineteenth century. They were a poetic record of Hokusai's times, where workmen and warriors, travellers and merchants performed their lives against the backdrop of Mt Fuji.
 
Like most visitors to Japan, I had seen Fuji before, from the windows of the shinkansen (bullet train). She appeared remote and incongruous beyond an expanse of housing and striped chimney stacks belching smoke. The salary men slept as the foreigners pointed, before she slipped from view. So this is how Fuji looks, I thought. It bore no resemblance to the images on posters, postcards, and tour brochures where she is normally portrayed, in elegiac mode, outside the limits of society and time. That was not the Fuji that I saw, and not the Fuji that I started photographing.
 
Instead I saw a locus in a complex modern society, a nexus in Japan where history, religion, leisure, industry, agriculture, work, and play came together, where the aesthetic impulses and spiritual sentiments of contemplation, awe, and transience collided with the messy, pungent, fact of humanity. This is what I wanted to document.
 
I circled around as if drawn by another thread whose radius was centred on Fuji. I drove and walked, tasting the sour air and the sweet, in a strange act of celebration. I performed my rituals of encirclement over a period of three years, between my time in England and my continued visits to the cauldrons of disquiet.
 
Fuji was an elusive mistress. Sometimes she hid herself away for days in a wall of mists. Sometimes she shone briefly through the clouds to display her peak or slope, or lifted her covering skirt to reveal a modest footing. The human theatre behind which she appeared, the theatre I wished to photograph, was equally elusive. As ever, hours of boredom with moments between defined the days.
 
Fuji was also surprisingly seductive, tempting me to slip into elegy and simply offer homage to sheer beauty, abandoning my documentary purpose. Sometimes, like a lover, my chest tightened as I set out towards her, wondering when I would catch my first glimpse, make my first photograph, wondering how she would look as she lifted from the clear morning light.
 
Fuji still remains a symbol for Japan, representing an ideal of beauty and perfection whose roots have nourished the sense of national identity over many centuries. The life around her still reflects the whole, though in these times her power as a uniting image is diminished in proportion to the haze of pollution that obscures her view from Tokyo.
 
Even as this ancient goddess is transformed into a theme park, here, at her feet, stretch the silent uncompassed forests where weary souls, tormented beyond bearing, come to release themselves into her ageless shadow. Here, the sound of children's voices mingle with the whistle of roller coasters and the whirl of roundabouts. Golf clubs cleave the air over chemical greens. Here against her side the United States military and the Japanese Defence Forces hurl their shells as the landscape echoes with the sound of their abuse.
 
Here, at her feet, the paddy fields are ploughed, pilgrims commence their climb, ancient prayers are recited, incense rises, the sound of the taiko asks attention of the gods.
 
Here at her feet, clouds obscure the view. Beyond, Fuji rises, rock blasted from the furnace of the earth, made lovely by our yearning for a perfect beauty. Myth and fable meet the force of this material age.
 
Here, through the metamorphoses of photography, chemicals and time, I leave a hundred stains on transfigured trees in dedication to beauty, a modern land, an ancient goddess, and to the love of my life.
 
Echoes
 
New Year's Eve of 2001 was crisp and bright.
 
Walking through the Surrey countryside with my wife, my two sons and a couple of friends, David and Annie. The landscape belong to us as we crunched over frosted leaves and mud, misting breath into the cold air, crossing small stone and wooden bridges where streams carried away the twigs the boys dropped in; past brambles and an abandoned factory. Voices disappearing into the woods and across the empty fields. A low winter sun.
 
I took some photographs as I always do on such outings. Photos of us, the landscape, plants and buildings. We climbed up to a church on the Pilgrims' Way as the light began to fall away, and reached our cars as the dark closed in. Back to a warm house, food by candle light, drink, TV, children washed and sleeping, my wife's embrace in a comfortable bed. The last remarkable, unremarkable day before the New Millennium.
 
Tokyo Love Hello - Introduction
 
When I started photographing in Japan I had no book in mind. I was just there, taking photographs for my interest or for magazine assignments. Back in those days my core subjects were elsewhere, in the developing world. Africa and Afghanistan. Places whose history was being written in blood and sand, and of course my homeland, England. Always England.
 
Things changed when I met my wife, Miyako Yamada, who was Japanese and who had a son, Daisuke. Things changed a lot. Life got better and far more complicated, as it does when you fall hopelessly in love. I now had a compelling reason for being in Japan and for photographing Japan, wanting to understand a place that had suddenly given me so much.
 
I started with a large project on Mount Fuji, the symbol for Japan, and documented the life and landscape around the mountain as a microcosm of Japanese life played out in the presence of the great mountain. I documented it over the seasons and a period of four years. It was a project that started in a very different manner to this book. Fuji was a classically documentary project, conceived from the beginning to be a book, which is what it finally became.
 
During the time I was working on Fuji I also photographed in Tokyo, but it was only later, when I brought my Tokyo material together as an archive, that some images emerged, insisting on my attention and interacting, in some indeterminate way, with other images from Tokyo, in a manner that felt like the beginnings of a book.
 
Much of making this type of book is intuitive. It is as if there is a scent you follow, not knowing what the scent is, or even, in the beginning, that you are following it. You follow it into blank walls and towards blind horizons before you find a live trail again, until at some point you realize you are close to Somewhere, and that Somewhere is the book you did not know you were making. Then, the fragments of memory, the silent echoes of experience which are your photographs, start to be assembled in a process of construction shaped by the logic of dreams.
 
I cannot explain this book. I can say plausible things about it if required; things that would be true yet miss the point that for me Tokyo is a state of mind as much as it is a place. By this I mean that my Tokyo is not someone else's, it is coloured by all my prejudices and affections. Undoubtedly based on reality, in other ways it is a fiction.
 
Think of it as a novel, even a love story.
 
Arriving, you don't know where you are, or whom. You are me, but you don't know me. Everything is not quite as it seems. You linger on street corners, peer into lives, lost in a sequence of passing encounters, reflections, screens, illusions. Searching, looking, hoping. For what? Truth? Beauty? Love? You travel for a long day of many years, before drifting into night: a stranger in a city which somehow you feel you know. You don't, but you might.
 
Northern Exposures - Introduction by Chris Steele-Perkins
 
I was brought up on the countryside in a small village on the north Somerset coast. I took the freedoms of the county for granted. My friends were farmer's children and it was a short walk from home to be in open fields.
 
All this changed when I went to Newcastle University and I became a city dweller and later moved to London where I started working as a photographer on urban themes: Inner City Poverty, Youth Subcultures, London Life. I never lost my feel for the countryside, but it became a place for holidays and weekend walks.
 
A long time back I started to think about doing a body of work on English rural life, but it never happened; was never urgent enough. It was something I always felt I could do later.
 
Four years ago I was asked by the Side Gallery if I would participate in a project on the Durham Coalfields: the heart of the British coal industry until all the mines were closed down under Margaret Thatcher's government.
 
The mining villages were dotted all over the area where coal was to be found and were often not more than a set of houses around the road. Out of the back garden you were in open county. I was struck by the way nearly everybody had a relationship to animals, they all seemed to own a number: horses, pigeons, dogs, ferrets, birds of prey and as farmers, sheep and cows. This is where I started photographing rural life.
 
The work with Side ended, but I continued to work in the north east, mainly Durham, driving up when I could, sometimes for only two or three days at a time, to photograph a bit more.
 
This was not the rural England I grew up in, of cider, soft rolling hills and warmer weather, but in other significant ways it had much in common with that England; an older, mainly anglo-saxon England. I wanted to document these ways, and rituals of a life lived in the open, under the sky. This is what these photographs are: a partial record and a personal exploration which serves as both eulogy and elegy.
 
Northern Exposures - Introduction by William Varley
 
Imagine an exhibition hall full of people wearing Darth Vader virtual reality helmets. It doesn't need imagination though: this surreally incongruous image actually appears in Chris Steele-Perkins' book of photographs of Tokyo, Tokyo, Love, Hello. A shot of the audience at the Tokyo Motor Show, it illustrates the remarkable Japanese ability to accommodate the commonplace and bizarre in everyday life. He wasn't, he says in the preface, deliberately setting out to focus upon the bizarre; it just happened. He was "simply following a scent" to record "Tokyo, my Tokyo". At base the book is a kind of love letter to the city where he met his wife, Miyako. Still, he loves England too, and even though he has been involved in photo-reportage all over the world, from Africa to Afghanistan, in the background, as a kind of emotional base, there's always England.
 
There are different kinds of England, of course. Although born in Burma, he grew up in Somerset, the rural England of cider, balmy weather and "blue remembered hills". Travelling north to study psychology at Newcastle University he encountered a harsher climate, a more abrasive industrial society and an alien, though not unfriendly, culture. His psychology course didn't exactly fire his enthusiasm though, and he found greater satisfaction in becoming the photographer for Courier, the student newspaper, the first step on his journey to joining the Magnum team. His friends at the time, too, were the art students Sean Scully and Charles Hewlings, both of whom were subsequently to become eminent artists. He recalls with great affection an epic journey in the 70s in a camper van, a trip which was fraught with comic episodes.
 
After graduating he became photographer to what was then the University Theatre (now Northern Stage) taking publicity shots and making archival records. His first, typically vivid, solo exhibition was a study of the Hoppings, Newcastle's annual summer fair. In the familiar slogan of the News of the World, "all human life is there" and he captured it. Later, moving to London of necessity (that's where the photographic commissions were) he focused upon urban themes of inner city poverty and youth sub-cultures. By this time he had almost lost contact with the countryside but in 2001 he was invited by Newcastle's Side Gallery to participate in a project on the Durham Coalfields which used to be the heartland of the British coal industry.
 
From a familiarity with a comfortable rural society he had now entered the world of Billy Elliot. The Durham pit villages, as in other mining areas, exist cheek by jowl with the countryside and as D. H. Lawrence observed in Nottingham and the Mining Country, the miner's life was "a curious cross between industrialism and the old agricultural England of Shakespeare and Milton". Lawrence, who, interestingly, was born in Scargill Street, Eastwood, described how his father, setting off at five in the morning for the fore shift at Brinsley Pit would "hunt for mushrooms in the long grass, or perhaps pick up a skulking rabbit". Much has changed in the 78 years since Lawrence wrote that essay: the mines have gone for a start; but old habits die hard. Around the former pit villages men (it's nearly always men) still rear pigeons, hunt with ferrets, race whippets, keep birds of prey, or grow leeks. Lawrence maintained that this owed to an undisclosed love of beauty that was often derided in the brutalised world of industrialized life. Billy Elliot deals with this, as does Barry Hines in Kes. In a marvellous set piece in the novel, the half starved, victimised loser Billy Casper, encouraged by his humane English teacher, suddenly becomes articulate and in an excited outpouring describes in detail how to train a kestrel. The same expertise and arcane language typifies those enthusiasts who go lamping for rabbits or grouse shooting. Contrary to tabloid class stereotypes there's a camaraderie amongst countrymen whether they are shooting grouse on, say, the Raby estate, or ferreting on the outskirts of Sunderland. Furthermore, although this project began with Haswell Plough Mart, a source of riches second only to Samarkand according to local lore, it extended outwards to farmlands stocked with horses, sheep and cows.
 
These inter-connected rural cultures are recorded impartially in the original spirit of Mass Observation. There is no evident indignation or bitterness about the scourge of foot and mouth disease or of the criminalisation of hunting. Nor is there sentimental leniency shown to teenage delinquents in the making, the underage drinkers acting daft for the camera at Haswell, for example. There's another memorable image from Haswell, of a daredevil caught in mid-air as he's flung from a cow. This urban cowboy reminded me powerfully of a shop window I once saw in Ely. One half of it was stocked with saddles, bridles and Barbour jackets; the other half contained stetsons, fringed shirts and rodeo gear. Nowadays there truly are interconnected rural cultures but some of them, of course, are determined by the inner fantasies of their participants. Maybe the paramilitary camouflage worn by the lampers who pose behind their bag of twenty rabbits is a reflection of theirs. This shot was evidently taken at night and the lampers' guarded expressions and the enveloping gloom give it a haunted, and haunting, atmosphere. Another atmospheric image is of the close-up of the boy (or girl?) with a ferret. In the contrast between smooth moon face and hairy animal we find absolute proof that Tokyo has no monopoly of the everyday surreal. An inescapable feature of this strange apparition (which could easily be a still from Fritz Lang's Metropolis) is the tenderness with which the ferret is being held. That tenderness, indeed a general sensitivity to animal husbandry, is recurrent throughout this survey, whether it is the gentleness of pigeon fanciers, the "walking" of beagle puppies, the careful shoeing of horses, or, for that matter, the boy who, like Billy Casper, proudly shows off his pet owl. Nor is Steele-Perkins squeamish about the elemental realities of country life, the messiness of lambing, for instance, or the sight of slaughter houses awash with blood: the countryside, as he points out, "is a business, not a natural idyll".
 
I notice that often I've called his photographs "shots". This is perhaps a misnomer because it suggests someone transient who grabs the moment and then moves on. Nor does "embedded", the current jargon word for photographers temporarily located, suffice. Neither term fairly describes the way in which, irrespective of commissions or projects, he returns to the north east and its countryside again and again. He simply likes it and its people. D.H. Lawrence would hardly recognise the post-industrial working class with its predilection for designer labels, mobile phones and all the other trappings of consumerism. Doubtless he would be dismayed by their increasing indifference to the countryside. Chris Steele-Perkins is less judgemental: his attitude is one of affection, not condescension. Still, he's not blind to modern degradation, his eloquent image of the Dishwasher dumped on the Pennines effortlessly exposes the same malign sensibility that led to the killing of Billy Casper's kestrel.
 
And he also recognises that this shared rural culture is slowly dying. In these photographs, however, he affectionately documents what survives, using his psychological nous to hint at the inner workings of his subjects' minds. Allied to his shrewdness in documenting cultural mixes and overlaps is his enviable skill in recording the landscape too.
 
Did I mention his sense of humour? It's always there in the background delighting in absurdities and idiosyncrasies such as the image of a fox, which is actually a mere mascot on the bonnet of a car, appearing to race across the landscape or the ceremonial gravity of the bidders at the Haswell Plough Mart auction as they compete to buy a second-hand door.
 
Po-faced commentators would, I suppose, designate this survey as an essay in cultural anthropology. It's not really that, though. Like his suite of Tokyo photographs it's more of a love letter to a region and a way of life for which he feels deep undying affection - for all its faults.
 
William Varley 2007  
  
 

Internet biographies

Terms and Conditions

 
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
 

Internet resources

Terms and Conditions

 
Magnum Photos 
http://www.magnumphotos.com ... 
Probably the world‘s most famous photo agency for photojournalists. Use this site to access the portfolios, biographies of the many notable Magnum photographers. Where there are books by the photographers the website frequently includes the photographs used. 
  
 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

 
• Evans, Martin Marix (Executive ed.) 1995 Contemporary Photographers [Third Edition] (St. James Press - An International Thomson Publishing Company) [Expensive reference work but highly informative.] 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
HOME  BACK>>> Subscriptions <<< | Testimonials | Login | FREE NEWSLETTER
 Facebook LuminousLint 
 Twitter @LuminousLint