In a new exhibition, Chris Steele-Perkins documents the diverse communities that shape King's Cross
Hidden Tribes is a documentation of the kinds of communities who call King’s Cross home, or a home-away-from-home: from forward-thinking retailers to rebel students, to local schoolchildren; from boat-dwellers to land-lubbers; from newcomers to lifelong residents.
For Chris Steele-Perkins, Hidden Tribes was as much a process of discovery for him as it is for that person walking through King’s Cross for the first time. “It was intriguing at the simple level of finding out (about) bits of London that I did not know existed, or didn’t know were being brought into existence,” he says of the project. “So you know, on that level I was engaged because I was just intrigued by what I was finding.” What Steele-Perkins found, camera in hand, was a diverse cross-section of the local people and places that make up the neighborhood, who he shot in their natural environments – their places of work or play.
The esteemed Magnum photographer is no stranger to documenting life in cities at home and abroad, especially those corners that are too often overlooked. He joined Magnum Photos in 1979, shortly after publishing what is still his most influential photobook: The Teds, in which he turned his lens on the British Teddy Boy subculture, throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s. After that, Steele-Perkins traveled the globe, producing a body of work that ranged from unflinching war photography in Afghanistan (2001), to playful keyholes into Tokyo’s inherent old-new contrasts (2007). However, he keeps coming back to England, drawn to the colorful multiculturalism of cities like London that are so unique to the national spirit. Right now, his ongoing study, The New Londoners, aims to look at the ethnically diverse families of the capital, where families have settled from every different country in the world. A triumphant riposte to post-Brexit mistrust of immigrant communities, it is an agenda that Steele-Perkins describes as a natural relation to this portrait of King’s Cross.
“It’s about making a document about time really, as I see it. The rest of the world is now in London,” he says. “Making a sort of documentary statement about that, by photographing the rest of the world via the families who are living in London currently. I like the idea of making social documents of that sort of order. And obviously, try to make them interesting visually as photographs.”
For Steele-Perkins, as for any photographer, the challenge is how one can make a connection with their subjects in a snap moment. Featured in the show are prints of 8 different groups of 51 individuals, plus another 8 groups of over 50 individuals that feature on the screen. “There’s a problem-solving element there,” the photographer describes. “How do you do it, with people you’ve never met before? In an environment that you’ve not necessarily ever seen before? And, you’ve got a short period of time because they are all working and have to do other things that day. It’s an interesting challenge, but I enjoy those kinds of challenges.”
Looking forward, Steele-Perkins hopes the show won’t be the last we see of his documentation of King’s Cross’s faces and places. “It’s a small sampling, but maybe I’ll add onto it later,” he muses. “There’s plenty of ways of enlarging it and I’d be intrigued to develop it further. It’s the beginning of something.”