Past Exhibition

The Pleasure Principle

A new exhibition at London's Leica Gallery shows Chris Steele-Perkins's work documenting the changing social landscape of the UK in the 1980s

Chris Steele-Perkins

Chris Steele-Perkins On the beach with dog and donkeys. From The Pleasure Principle. Blackpool. England. G.B. 1982. © Chris Steele-Perkins | Magnum Photos

A selection of images from The Pleasure Principle will be on display at the Leica Gallery Mayfair from 21 February – 23 March, 2020.

The Pleasure Principle is a powerful and searching photographic portrait of England in the 1980s. Chris Steele-Perkins records the rapidly changing social landscape that he found after returning from extensive travels in the third world. Using ideas of pleasure, he explores public rituals that cut across class and location. The result is familiar yet disturbing.

Chris Steele-Perkins Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during the Conservative Party Conference. 1985. From The Pleasure Principle. © Chris Steele-Perkins | Magnum Photos

England can be a strange place – alternatively funny and serious, happy and sad. “The Pleasure Principle” is a collection of color photographs of England and its people, representing a powerful and perceptive view of a country during the eighties. Returning to England after spending time photographing abroad in the third world, Chris Steele-Perkins experienced a kind of culture shock. “I was not interested in polemics, or a fashionable cynicism,” says Steele-Perkins. “I wanted to re-orientate myself. I found myself returning to the public rituals we employ in the pursuit of happiness. For there we display our identity as we would like it to be. There we make signals to each other about who we are, and about what we believe in. Looking through this haze of signals with a tangential glance, a curious eye, reveals some unintended things.” Through a series of striking color images, Steele-Perkins presents a wry view of various recreational and social activities that examines the public rituals we employ in the pursuit of happiness. Using the idea of ‘pleasure’ and the pursuit of it, he explores a public, ritual face that cuts across class and location. Steele-Perkins wanted the photographs in this series to be, in a sense, about hedonism and our search for a better world. What he presents is a “kaleidoscope of experiences”; not only familiar, but also captured in a way that is frequently unsettling.

Chris Steele-Perkins British Territorial Army practice repelling a Soviet mock invasion. From The Pleasure Principle. London. England. GB. 1989. © Chris Steele-Perkins | Magnum Photos
Chris Steele-Perkins At a Night Club. From The Pleasure Principle. London. England. GB. 1989. © Chris Steele-Perkins | Magnum Photos
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