“I wanted to rethink the way we photographed migration”
Usually when we look at Migration, it is with very uncomfortable thoughts of people moving and fighting for a home away from home, especially with what’s happening today. Immigration being the most important issue for voters in Britain, people are wishing to reduce the number of people entering their region.
In a photo-series, photographer Chris Steele Perkins has been photographing immigrants in London for a project that has lasted four years, he says “ I wanted to rethink the way we photographed migration”.
The New Londoners is a project that takes you into exactly what it’s like behind the doors of an immigrant family in London, it is an exploration of some of the questions Steele-Perkins has been asking for a long time; who are we now? And how can we define that? There are just under 200 countries in the world, and right in London, is a photographer on a mission to document them all.
The big question really,
if we are rooted from different places around the world and now in one place, then who are we now? Immigration is you leaving your root to settle in a new place, maybe for a short while or for the rest of your life. That’s definitely not easy for anyone, it is a time that is worth documenting.
Being a man from different roots himself, photographer Steel Perkins has a first-hand connection with exactly what it’s like to be a little different and not exactly the same. He is the son of a Burmese mother and a British father. Steele Perkins was born in Myanmar in 1947 and moved to a predominantly white town in England when he was about 2 years old. Can you now see how this a story of an immigrant who is documenting other immigrant families who have moved to the city? Only that it is much deeper than just that, The New Londoners is photo-series that is set to document the many faces, families from all countries in the world that make up London.
“I’m still trying to figure out what our country is and where I fit into it,” he explains. “I want to be able to look at these images and say yes, that’s where we were as a nation at the beginning of the 21st century.”
A recent research showed that Britons want less non-citizens in the country, 49% of Britons felt there were too many immigrants in the UK, but Steele Perkins feels a completely different way. He likes to look at migration as a part of a bigger picture, that difference is a phenomenal thing that binds us more than it separates us.
He wanted to reflect the individuality, community and unity of Londoners today.
“The idea behind it was to think of a different way to photograph migration,” he explains. “Migrations have always been photographed very extensively in a dramatic, photojournalist sense, but I wanted to change that.” The project encompasses portraits of families from over 180 countries across the globe, who have all settled in London.
Having been on this people project for four years now, Steel Perkins have come to see beyond just numbers, he sees responsibility, he sees contribution. The notion that immigrants come to take things than they contribute, is a notion he is proving wrong. He says “These are ordinary people, they’re committed, they’re serious, they pay their taxes, they contribute to the society that they’re in,” Steele-Perkins said. “I do think it’s really dangerous when people start ramping up the notion that actually, rather than people who are here to contribute … they’re here to take things from us rather than give anything back.
The New Londoners project comes to a close in Spring 2019, when it will be culminated into a book, but just before then, Steele-Perkins hopes to photograph 20 more. “It’s one of those projects that could go on forever,” he says, “But I have to draw the line somewhere.” The British Library will soon be taking the prints into their permanent collection, rooting them in the UK’s cultural consciousness, as a reflection of this moment in time.
It is a moment in time that is worth documenting, photographing migration in a less dramatic, more personal level in the homes of these people who make up part of London’s rich cultural tapestry.
Be a part of the project if you are an immigrant in London, a photograph tells the truest stories.
We are writing about this project as a media partner for Portrait of Humanity, a new global initiative calling on photographers and storytellers of any level, “to show us the world through their eyes, to capture the many faces of humanity, and to document the universal expressions of life; laughter, courage, moments of reflection, journeys to work, first hellos, last goodbyes, and everything in between. What’s normal to you might be extraordinary to someone else”