In this review for Shutter Hub, I take a look at the work of a photographer reflecting lives in a multi-cultural city.
The New Londoners by Chris Steele-Perkins
It’s always good to challenge yourself. As an artist, it’s vital. And The New Londoners challenged my own visual preferences.
In this book, Steele-Perkins responds to “the panic and hysteria building up in Europe…threatening our jobs, our way of life…our identity…” and played out by many via the Brexit process.
He has portrayed (mostly) people he does not know, in their homes, to celebrate diversity in England’s capital city, London. He sees it as his way to add his voice to these times through the stories of the people who are making London their home and becoming The New Londoners.
It seems a sound basis for a geo-societal photography project.
I’ve always had an interest in people’s backgrounds, and having recently looked into my own heritage, I felt this book had great potential.
Its red, white and blue front cover colours hint at the new ‘London-patriots” found inside, and there is definitely a great mix of stories about how those featured found their way to the city and how they see their own identity.
I often found this fascinating but also challenging. In the past three years I have increasingly started referring to my identity, if asked, as “global citizen” or “just human”. I am Welsh by place of birth but I’m also the great-granddaughter of Italian immigrants. Having lived in many places in the UK, including London, I found myself drawn to those who said they did not necessarily feel one thing or another but drew from myriad parts of their cultural identities. Why do we need to have a sense of place, somewhere we ‘come from’, somewhere called ‘home’. Why is it important to some and not as much to others?
But even with the questions the topic may throw up, for me I did not feel I connected to the portraits. I put this down to the style of the photographs. Or perhaps it is because I am not drawn to London in the same way as Steele-Perkins.
Overall, the images to me seem impersonal - almost as if Steel-Perkins rushed in, took a snap and was off again. I appreciate the book’s subject will challenge the viewer to think about the intricacies of identity, but, for one that aims to encourage “tolerance and openness of heart," I’m not sure the sense of aloofness or indifference I saw when looking at several of the portraits will succeed in this. There are moments of more natural poses, even a smile or two, and for me this lends itself better somehow to encouraging us all to be open, warm and considerate of others.
I wanted to love the book for what it is trying to achieve but found it not to be my photographic ‘cup of tea’, which detracted from its inclusive aim.