Steele-Perkins, Christopher Horace 1947-

views updated

STEELE-PERKINS, Christopher Horace 1947-

PERSONAL: Born July 28, 1947, in Rangoon, Burma; son of an English military officer and a Burmese mother. Education: University of Newcastle upon Tyne, B.Sc., 1970.

ADDRESSES: Home—5 St. John's Buildings, Canterbury Crescent, London SW9 7QB, England. Agent— Magnum Photos, 5 Old St., London EC1V 9HL, England. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Freelance photographer. Worked for numerous publications, including Fortune, Geo, Newsweek, Observer Magazine, Paris-Match, Stern, Time, and London Sunday Times. Polytechnic of Central London, lecturer in photography, 1976-77. Affiliated with Exit group of photographers, London, England, 1975—; Viva photo agency, Paris, France (associate, 1976-78); Magnum photo agency, London, Paris, New York (nominee, 1979-83; member, 1983—). Exhibitions: Individual exhibitions include The Face of Bengal, Camerawork Gallery, London, England, 1974; Film Ends, Photographers Gallery, Southampton, Hampshire, England (traveling exhibit), 1977; The Teds, Camerawork Gallery, London, 1979; Survival Programmes, Side Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, 1982; Beirut, Camerawork Gallery, London, 1983; Lebanon, Magnum Gallery, Paris, France, 1985; The Pleasure Principle (traveling exhibit), 1990; Afghanistan, Perpignan Festival, France, 1999. Group exhibitions include The Inquisitive Eye, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1974; Young British Photographers, Photographers Gallery, London, 1975; Maritime England, Photographers Gallery, London, 1982; The Indelible Image, Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC, 1985; South Africa, FNAC-Montparnasse, Paris, 1986; In Our Time, Magnum Photos world tour, 1990; A Terrible Beauty, Artists Space, New York, NY, 1994. Works are in the collections of Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; Arts Council of Great Britain, London; Side Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne; Photographers' Gallery, London, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia; FNAC, Paris.

MEMBER: Arts Council of Great Britain (member of photography committee, 1976-79).

AWARDS, HONORS: Gulbenkian Foundation Grant, 1975; Oskar Barnak Award—World Press (Netherlands), 1988; Tom Hopkinson Award, Photographers' Gallery, London, 1988; Robert Capa Gold Medal, ICP New York, 1989; Cooperative Award and One World Award, both 1994, both for film Dying for Publicity; World Press Award, 2000.


(Photographer) Young British Photographers (exhibition catalogue), [London, England], 1975.

(Photographer) Richard Smith The Teds, Travelling Light (London, England), 1979.

(Photographer and editor) About Seventy Photographs, Arts Council of Great Britain (London, England), 1980.

(Photographer, with Homer Sykes) Wieland Giebel, Das kurze Leben des Brian Steward: Alltag im irischen Bürgerkrieg, Elefanten Press (West Berlin, Germany), 1981.

(Photographer) Survival Programmes (exhibition catalogue), Open University Press (Milton Keynes, England), 1982.

(Photographer) Selim Nasib and Caroline Tisdall Beirut Frontline Story, [London, England], 1982.

(Photographer) Jane Livingston and Frances Fralin, The Indelible Image (exhibition catalogue) [New York, NY], 1985.

In Our Time, Magnum Group, Norton (New York, NY), 1989.

The Pleasure Principle, Aperture Foundation (New York, NY), 1990.

St. Thomas's Hospital, [London, England], 1992.

(Photographer) Sayd Bahodine Majrouth, Afghanistan, Westzone Publishing, Limited (London, England), 2001.

Fuji, Powerhouse Cultural Entertainment (New York, NY), 2002.

SIDELIGHTS: Photographer Christopher Horace Steele-Perkins was born in Rangoon, Burma, but when he was two years old, his English military officer father deserted his Burmese mother and went back to England with Steele-Perkins in tow. They settled in a small town on the sea coast, where as a mixed-race child, Steele-Perkins felt conspicuous; he later said in the Eyestorm Web site, that "there was no ethnic community into which I could retreat . . . I was seen as a Chink." Educated at Christ's Hospital School in Sussex, he then studied chemistry at the University of York for a year, left it for a short stint in Canada, and came back to England and enrolled at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, where he concentrated on psychology. He became a photographer and picture editor for a student magazine, and upon graduating in 1970, he continued this interest as a freelance photographer specializing in theater while lecturing in psychology.

A year later, Steele-Perkins moved to London to pursue a full-time career as a freelance photographer. He has since worked for a variety of publications, including Fortune, Geo, Newsweek, Observer Magazine, Paris-Match, Stern, Time, and the London Sunday Times. Several relief agencies commissioned him to travel to Bangladesh, and in 1974, these photographs comprised his first individual exhibit, The Face of Bengal, at London's Cameraworks Gallery. He also exhibited in a group show, The Inquisitive Eye, that same year and was part of Young British Photographers in 1975 after becoming involved with the documentary group Exit and working with it on its projects examining inner-city life. Continuing to expand his career, Steele-Perkins became an associate with Viva, a French photographic agency, in 1976, and was a lecturer in photography at the Polytechnic of Central London. Though he had been primarily a photojournalist to this point, in 1977 he collaborated with fellow photographer Mark Edwards on a project of conceptual photography, Film Ends. Picking through 5,000 found film rolls, Steele-Perkins and Edwards concentrated on the frames photographers expose to finish out a roll before developing it, and printed forty. "The creative act, obviously, was not in the careless exposing of film ends, but in discovering what a treasure of chance events of significance might be hidden in such photos," described a Contemporary Photographers writer of the endeavor.

The Teds was Steele-Perkins' first book, and the photographs also appeared in a traveling exhibition. The series portrayed the final wave of Teddy Boys, an English youth movement born in the 1950s; its adherents dressed in a distinctive style and adopted a distinctive attitude. Observed the Contemporary Photographers writer, "In this series, he works in the genre of the journalistic portrait: many of the photos are of Teds' faces. Other photos in the series are 'live,' depicting typical situations from their lives, their amusements. The series as a whole . . . is modern reportage at its best." Steels-Perkins continued to exhibit and publish his photographs; his second book was About Seventy Photographs, a collection of photographs he edited for the U.K. Arts Council; his third was Survival Programmes, more of his work with the group Exit.

Steele-Perkins left Viva and became first a nominee, in 1979, and then a full member, by 1983, of the Magnum Photo Agency. This allowed him to travel and work abroad in Africa, the Middle East, the Soviet Union, and Central America, photographing famine, wars, and other tragedies. "Previously my work had been focused on particulars of Britain: poverty, subculture. I did not have any parallel reality against which to properly assess my position," he said in Eyestorm. He had several exhibits of work from these trips, including Beirut, in 1983, Lebanon, in 1985, and Famine in Africa in 1985. Noted the Contemporary Photographers writer, "This honest approach to a difficult subject saved his work from the sensationseeking effect so commonplace in current journalism, since his aim was not to excite the imagination but to persuade the viewer that the necessary reaction should be more than mere sympathy." In 1989, Steele-Perkins published his first book of color photographs, The Pleasure Principle. He said in Eyestorm that this collection portraying British society was "in one sense about our hedonism and our search for a better world. In another sense they are about me and the ambiguous feelings I have about England."

In the 1990s, Steele-Perkins went several times to Afghanistan, covering such dramatic events as the civil war and life afterward and the 1998 earthquake, but especially Afghani people going about their daily lives. The resulting book, Afghanistan, had text by Afghan poet Sayd Bahodine Majrouh as well as entries from Steele-Perkins' diary. "The stark photographs address destruction and mayhem on the one hand and daily life in the fields and cities on the other. The pictures are allowed to tell their own story . . . Steele-Perkins' diary excerpts provide some context to the overall work and Majrouh's poetry further enhances the impressionistic tone of the work," remarked John R. Riddick in the Library Journal. Commended Spectator reviewer Philip Hensher, "These astonishingly beautiful photographs are more moving than can be described; they hardly ever dwell on physical brutalities, but on the bleak rubble and desert of the country, punctuated by inexplicable moments of formal beauty, even pastoral bliss . . . the grandeur of the images comes from Steele-Perkins never neglecting the human, the individual face in the great crowd of history."

According to the Creative Review, Afghanistan "reveal[s] a tragic country in a new light." Steele-Perkins said in an interview with Scotland on Sunday about the book that he was allowed to travel all over the country during the course of his four visits, even on his last trip, when the Taliban controlled most of the country. "I was operating with them [the Taliban]. The majority were just ordinary guys. They would offer you tea and food—they wouldn't have any for themselves, but they would give you theirs," he said. Steele-Perkins also displayed images from his Afghan trips in a traveling exhibition, also called Afghanistan. Observed reviewer Nick Redman in the Evening Standard, "His work . . . concerns itself with the daily cycles of Afghan lives made austere by civil war, while leaving the fighting out of the frame. . . . While it would be facile to underestimate the awful reality of life under the Taliban regime, Steele-Perkins' work proves there is life beyond that channeled handily through a news-hungry lens." The exhibit drew this comment from Jonathan Jones in the Guardian, "Steele-Perkins . . . maintains a tradition of photographic truth-telling that is under threat in an age of digital images."

Moving to a startling different part of the world, Steele-Perkins turned his camera lens on Japan, publishing his photographs in a book, Fuji, and collecting them in a traveling exhibition of the same name. He captured a variety of facets of Japanese contemporary life within sight of Mount Fuji, including supermarkets, playgrounds, streetlife, and landscapes, "inspired by the famed 19th century prints of Hokusai and Hiroshige," related a reviewer in the Daily Post. "It was a move that demonstrated as effectively as anything the ranginess and flexibility of his approach and his singular openness to all kinds of experience," concluded the Eyestorm article of this work.



Contemporary Photographers, 3rd ed. St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.


Creative Review, December 2000, "Olympus Campaign Asks the Difficult Questions," p. 13; June 2001, review of Afghanistan, p. 74.

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), January 11, 2002, "Triple Exhibition," p. 25.

Evening Standard (London, England), April 6, 2001, Nick Redman, "9 to 5, Afghan-Style," p. 67.

Guardian (London, England), August 17, 2000, Jonathan Jones, "The Guide Thursday: Exhibitions: Chris Steele-Perkins," p. 19.

Library Journal, December 2001, John F. Riddick, review of Afghanistan, p. 150.

Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh, Scotland), September 23, 2001, "Witness: The Taliban Are Seen as Extremists, but Photographer Chris Steele-Perkins Has Captured Their Humanity," p. 13.

Spectator, May 19, 2001, Philip Hensher, review of Afghanistan, p. 36


Eyestorm Contemporary Art and Photography Web site, (May 7, 2002).*