• Chris Steele-Perkins’ book A Place In The
Country, from which these photographs are taken, is published by Dewi Lewis
next month, priced £25.
Steele-Perkins was born in Rangoon, Burma in
1947 to a British father and a Burmese mother; but his father left his mother
and took the boy to England at the age of two. He went to Christ's Hospital and
for one year studied chemistry at the University of York before leaving for a
stay in Canada. Returning to Britain, he joined the University of Newcastle
upon Tyne, where he served as photographer and picture editor for a student
magazine. After graduating in psychology in 1970 he started to work as a
freelance photographer, specializing in the theatre, while he also lectured in
By 1971, Steele-Perkins had moved to London
and become a full-time photographer, with particular interest in urban issues,
including poverty. He went to Bangladesh in 1973 to take photographs for relief
organizations; some of this work was exhibited in 1974 at the Camerawork
Gallery (London). In 1973–74 he taught photography at the Stanhope Institute
and the North East London Polytechnic.
In 1975, Steele-Perkins joined the Exit
Photography Group with the photographers Nicholas Battye and Paul Trevor, and
there continued his examination of urban problems: Exit's earlier booklet Down
Wapping had led to a commission by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to
increase the scale of their work, and in six years they produced 30,000
photographs as well as many hours of taped interviews. This led to the 1982
book Survival Programmes. Steele-Perkins' work included depiction from 1975 to
1977 of street festivals, and prints from London Street Festivals were bought
by the British Council and exhibited with Homer Sykes' Once a Year and Patrick
Ward's Wish You Were Here; Steele-Perkins' depiction of Notting Hill has been
described as being in the vein of Tony Ray-Jones.
Steele-Perkins became an associate of the
French agency Viva in 1976, and three years after this, he published his first
book, The Teds, an examination of teddy boys that is now considered a classic
of documentary and even fashion photography. He curated photographs for the
Arts Council collection, and co-edited a collection of these, About 70
In 1977 Steele-Perkins had made a short detour
into "conceptual" photography, working with the photographer Mark
Edwards to collect images from the ends of rolls of films taken by others,
exposures taken in a rush merely in order to finish the roll. Forty were
exhibited in "Film Ends".
Work documenting poverty in Britain took
Steele-Perkins to Belfast, which he found to be poorer than Glasgow, London,
Middlesbrough, or Newcastle, as well as experiencing "a low-intensity
He stayed in the Catholic Lower Falls area, first squatting and
then staying in the flat of a man he met in Belfast. His photographs of
Northern Ireland appeared in a 1981 book written by Wieland Giebel. Thirty
years later, he would return to the area to find that its residents had new
problems and fears; the later photographs appear within Magnum Ireland.
Steele-Perkins photographed wars and disasters
in the third world, leaving Viva in 1979 to join Magnum Photos as a nominee (on
encouragement by Josef Koudelka), and becoming an associate member in 1981 and
a full member in 1983. He continued to work in Britain, taking photographs
published as The Pleasure Principle, an examination (in colour) of life in
Britain but also a reflection of himself. With Philip Marlow, he successfully
pushed for the opening of a London office for Magnum; the proposal was approved
Steele-Perkins made four trips to Afghanistan
in the 1990s, sometimes staying with the Taliban, the majority of whom
"were just ordinary guys" who treated him courteously. Together with
James Nachtwey and others, he was also fired on, prompting him to reconsider
his priorities: in addition to the danger of the front line:
. you never get good pictures out of it. I've yet to see a decent front-line
war picture. All the strong stuff is a bit further back, where the emotions
A book of his black and white images,
Afghanistan, was published first in French, and later in English and in
Japanese. The review in the Spectator read in part:
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
The book and the travelling exhibition of
photographs were also reviewed favorably in the Guardian, Observer, Library
Journal, and London Evening Standard.
Steele-Perkins served as the President of
Magnum from 1995 to 1998. One of the annual meetings over which he presided was
that of 1996, to which Russell Miller was given unprecedented access as an
outsider and which Miller has described in some detail.
With his second wife the presenter and writer
Miyako Yamada (山田美也子), whom he married
in 1999, Steele-Perkins has spent much time in Japan, publishing two books of
photographs: Fuji, a collection of views and glimpses of the mountain inspired
by Hokusai's Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji; and Tokyo Love Hello, scenes of
life in the city. Between these two books he also published a personal visual
diary of the year 2001, Echoes.
Work in South Korea included a contribution to
a Hayward Gallery touring exhibition of photographs of contemporary slavery,
"Documenting Disposable People", in which Steele-Perkins interviewed
and made black-and-white photographs of Korean "comfort women".
"Their eyes were really important to me: I wanted them to look at you, and
for you to look at them", he wrote. "They're not going to be around
that much longer, and it was important to give this show a history." The
photographs were published within Documenting Disposable People: Contemporary
Steele-Perkins returned to England for a
project by the Side Gallery on Durham's closed coalfields (exhibited within
"Coalfield Stories"); after this work ended, he stayed on to work on
a depiction (in black and white) of life in the north-east of England, published
as Northern Exposures.
In 2008 Steele-Perkins won an Arts Council
England grant for "Carers: The Hidden Face of Britain", a project to
interview those caring for their relatives at home, and to photograph the
relationships. Some of this work has appeared in The Guardian, and also in his
book England, My England, a compilation of four decades of his photography that
combines photographs taken for publication with much more personal work: he
does not see himself as having a separate personality when at home. "By
turns gritty and evocative," wrote a reviewer in The Guardian, "it is
a book one imagines that Orwell would have liked very much."
Steele-Perkins has two sons, Cedric, born 16
November 1990, and Cameron, born 18 June 1992. With his marriage to Miyako Yamada he has a stepson, Daisuke and a
Holkham Hall is an 18th-century country house
located adjacent to the village of Holkham, Norfolk, England. The house was
constructed in the Palladian style for Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester
(fifth creation) by the architect William Kent, aided by the architect and
aristocrat Lord Burlington.
Holkham Hall is one of England's finest
examples of the Palladian revival style of architecture, and severity of its
design is closer to Palladio's ideals than many of the other numerous Palladian
style houses of the period. The Holkham estate, formerly known as Neals, had
been purchased in 1609 by Sir Edward Coke, the founder of his family fortune.
It is the ancestral home of the Coke family, the Earls of Leicester of Holkham.
The interior of the hall is opulently but, by
the standards of the day, simply decorated and furnished. Ornament is used with
such restraint that it was possible to decorate both private and state rooms in
the same style, without oppressing the former. The principal entrance is
through the "Marble" Hall, which leads to the piano nobile, or the
first floor, and state rooms. The most impressive of these rooms is the saloon,
which has walls lined with red velvet. Each of the major state rooms is symmetrical
in its layout and design; in some rooms, false doors are necessary to fully
achieve this balanced effect.
Holkham was built by first Earl of Leicester,
Thomas Coke, who was born in 1697. A cultivated and wealthy man, Coke made the
Grand Tour in his youth and was away from England for six years between 1712
and 1718. It is likely he met both Burlington—the aristocratic architect at the
forefront of the Palladian revival movement in England—and William Kent in
Italy in 1715, and that in the home of Palladianism the idea of the mansion at
Holkham was conceived. Coke returned to England, not only with a newly acquired
library, but also an art and sculpture collection with which to furnish his
planned new mansion. However, after his return, he lived a feckless life,
preoccupying himself with drinking, gambling and hunting, and being a leading
supporter of cockfighting. He made a disastrous investment in the South Sea
Company and when the South Sea Bubble burst in 1720, the resultant losses
delayed the building of Coke's planned new country estate for over ten years. Coke,
who had been made Earl of Leicester in 1744, died in 1759—five years before the
completion of Holkham—having never fully recovered his financial losses.
Thomas's wife, Lady Margaret Tufton, Countess of Leicester (1700–1775), would
oversee the finishing and furnishing of the House.
Although Colen Campbell was employed by Thomas
Coke in the early 1720s, the oldest existing working and construction plans for
Holkham were drawn by Matthew Brettingham, under the supervision of Thomas
Coke, in 1726. These followed the guidelines and ideals for the house as
defined by Kent and Burlington. The Palladian revival style chosen was at this
time making its return in England. The style made a brief appearance in England
before the Civil War, when it was introduced by Inigo Jones. However, following the Restoration it was
replaced in popular favour by the Baroque style. The "Palladian revival",
popular in the 18th century, was loosely based on the appearance of the works
of the 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio. However it did not,
adhere to Palladio's strict rules of proportion. The style eventually evolved
into what is generally referred to as Georgian, still popular in England
today. It was the chosen style for numerous houses in both town and country,
although Holkham is exceptional for both its severity of design and for being
closer than most in its adherence to Palladio's ideals.
Although Thomas Coke oversaw the project, he
delegated the on-site architectural duties to the local Norfolk architect
Matthew Brettingham, who was employed as the on-site clerk of works.
Brettingham was already the estate architect, and was in receipt of £50 a year
(about 7,000 pounds per year in 2014 terms in return for "taking care of his
Lordship's buildings". William Kent was mainly responsible for the
interiors of the Southwest pavilion, or family wing block, particularly the
Long Library. Kent produced a variety of alternative exteriors, suggesting a
far richer decoration than Coke wanted. Brettingham described the building of
Holkham as "the great work of [my life]", and when he published his
"The Plans and Elevations of the late Earl of Leicester's House at
Holkham", he immodestly described himself as sole architect, making no
mention of Kent's involvement. However, in a later edition of the book,
Brettingham's son admitted that "the general idea was first struck out by
the Earls of Leicester and Burlington, assisted by Mr. William Kent".
In 1734, the first foundations were laid;
however, building was to continue for thirty years, until the completion of the
great house in 1764.
The Palladian style was admired by Whigs such
as Thomas Coke, who sought to identify themselves with the Romans of antiquity.
Kent was responsible for the external appearance of Holkham; he based his
design on Palladio's unbuilt Villa Mocenigo,] as it appears in I Quattro Libri
dell'Architettura, but with modifications.
The plans for Holkham were of a large central
block of two floors only, containing on the piano nobile level a series of
symmetrically balanced state rooms situated around two courtyards. No hint of
these courtyards is given externally; they are intended for lighting rather
than recreation or architectural value. This great central block is flanked by
four smaller, rectangular blocks, or wings, and at each corners is linked
to the main house not by long colonnades—as would have been the norm in
Palladian architecture—but by short two-storey wings of only one bay.
The external appearance of Holkham can best be
described as a huge Roman palace. However, as with most architectural designs,
it is never quite that simple. Holkham is a Palladian house, and yet even by
Palladian standards the external appearance is austere and devoid of ornamentation.
This can almost certainly be traced to Coke himself. The on-site, supervising
architect, Matthew Brettingham, related that Coke required and demanded
"commodiousness", which can be interpreted as comfort. Hence rooms
that were adequately lit by one window, had only one, as a second might have
improved the external appearance but could have made a room cold or draughty.
As a result the few windows on the piano nobile, although symmetrically placed
and balanced, appear lost in a sea of brickwork; albeit these yellow bricks
were cast as exact replicas of ancient Roman bricks expressly for Holkham.
Above the windows of the piano nobile, where on a true Palladian structure the
windows of a mezzanine would be, there is nothing. The reason for this is the double
height of the state rooms on the piano nobile; however, not even a blind
window, such as those often seen in Palladio's own work, is permitted to
alleviate the severity of the facade. On the ground floor, the rusticated walls
are pierced by small windows more reminiscent of a prison than a grand house.
One architectural commentator, Nigel Nicolson, has described the house as
appearing as functional as a Prussian riding school.
The principal, or South facade, is 344 feet
(104.9 m) in length (from each of the flanking wings to the other), its
austerity relieved on the piano nobile level only by a great six-columned
portico. Each end of the central block is terminated by a slight projection,
containing a Venetian window surmounted by a single storey square tower and
capped roof, similar to those employed by Inigo Jones at Wilton House nearly a
century earlier. A near identical
portico was designed by Inigo Jones and Isaac de Caus for the Palladian front
at Wilton, but this was never executed.
The flanking wings contain service and
secondary rooms—the family wing to the south-west; the guest wing to the
north-west; the chapel wing to the south-east; and the kitchen wing to the
north-east. Each wing's external appearance is identical: three bays, each
separated from the other by a narrow recess in the elevation. Each bay is
surmounted by an unadorned pediment. The composition of stone, recesses,
varying pediments and chimneys of the four blocks is almost reminiscent of the
English Baroque style in favour ten years earlier, employed at Seaton Delaval
Hall by Sir John Vanbrugh. One of these wings, as at the later Kedleston Hall,
was a self-contained country house to accommodate the family when the state
rooms and central block were not in use.
The one storey porch at the main north
entrance was designed in the 1850s by Samuel Sanders Teulon, although
stylistically it is indistinguishable from the 18th century building.
Inside the house, the Palladian form reaches a
height and grandeur seldom seen in any other house in England. It has, in fact,
been described as "The finest Palladian interior in England." The
grandeur of the interior is obtained with an absence of excessive ornament, and
reflects Kent's career-long taste for "the eloquence of a plain
surface". Work on the interiors ran from 1739 to 1773. The first habitable
rooms were in the family wing and were in use from 1740, the Long Library being
the first major interior completed in 1741. Among the last to be completed and
entirely under Lady Leicester's supervision is the Chapel with its alabaster
reredos. The house is entered through the "Marble" Hall (the chief
building fabric is in fact Derbyshire alabaster), modelled by Kent on a Roman
basilica. The room is over 50 feet (15 m) from floor to ceiling and is
dominated by the broad white marble flight of steps leading to the surrounding
gallery, or peristyle: here alabaster Ionic columns support the coffered,
gilded ceiling, copied from a design by Inigo Jones, inspired by the Pantheon
in Rome. The fluted columns are thought to be replicas of those in the Temple
of Fortuna Virilis, also in Rome. Around the hall are statues in niches; these
are predominantly plaster copies of classical deities.
The hall's flight of steps lead to the piano
nobile and state rooms. The grandest, the saloon, is situated immediately
behind the great portico, with its walls lined with patterned red Genoa velvet
and a coffered, gilded ceiling. In this room hangs Rubens's Return from Egypt.
On his Grand Tour, the Earl acquired a collection of Roman copies of Greek and
Roman sculpture which is contained in the massive "Statue Gallery",
which runs the full length of the house north to south. The North Dining Room,
a cube room of 27 feet (8.2 m) contains an Axminster carpet that perfectly
mirrors the pattern of the ceiling above. A bust of Aelius Verus, set in a
niche in the wall of this room, was found during the restoration at Nettuno. A classical apse gives the room an almost temple
air. The apse in fact, contains concealed access to the
labyrinth of corridors and narrow stairs that lead to the distant kitchens and
service areas of the house. Each corner of the east side of the principal block
contains a square salon lit by a huge Venetian window, one of them—the
Landscape Room—hung with paintings by Claude Lorrain and Gaspar Poussin. All of
the major state rooms have symmetrical walls, even where this involves matching
real with false doors. The major rooms also have elaborate white and
multi-coloured marble fireplaces, most with carvings and sculpture, mainly the
work of Thomas Carter, though Joseph Pickford carved the fireplace in the
Statue Gallery. Much of the furniture in the state rooms was also designed by
William Kent, in a stately classicising baroque manner.
So restrained is the interior decoration of
the state rooms, or in the words of James Lees-Milne, "chaste", that
the smaller, more intimate rooms in the family's private south-west wing were
decorated in similar vein, without being overpowering. The long library running
the full length of the wing still contains the collection of books acquired by
Thomas Coke on his Grand Tour through Italy, where he saw for the first time
the Palladian villas which were to inspire Holkham.
The Green State bedroom is the principal
bedroom; it is decorated with paintings and tapestries, including works by Paul
Saunders and George Smith Bradshaw. It is said that when Queen Mary visited,
Gavin Hamilton's "lewd" depiction of Jupiter Caressing Juno "was
considered unsuitable for that lady's eyes and was banished to the attics"