Homer Sykes

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Homer Warwick Sykes (born 1949) is a Canadian-born British photographer whose career has included personal projects and landscape photography.

Life and career[edit]

Sykes's father, Homer Warwick Sykes, was a Canadian-born American of English extraction who worked for the China National Aviation Corporation in Shanghai; his mother, Helen Grimmitt, was Canadian born and raised in Hong Kong. The pair were married in August 1947, but in June 1948, in an early stage of his wife's pregnancy, Homer was killed in an accident at Lunghua airfield. Helen returned to her family home in Vancouver, and the son was born three weeks later.[1]

When the boy's mother remarried in 1954, the family moved to England.[2] He was a keen photographer as a teenager, with a darkroom both at home and at boarding school. In 1968 he started a three-year course at the London College of Printing,[2] while sharing a house in St John's Wood.[3] In the summer vacation during his first year, he went to New York, and was impressed by the work of current photographers — Cartier-Bresson, Davidson, Friedlander, Frank, Uzzle and Winogrand — that he saw at the Museum of Modern Art.[2]

While wondering about a new photographic project, Sykes serendipitously came across a story on the Britannia Coconut Dancers in an issue of In Britain magazine.[2] This led him to research other local festivals in Britain at the archives of the Cecil Sharp House.[4] Sykes' photography of these festivals was inspired by that of Benjamin Stone, but he approached them with a modern sensibility and a small-format camera, "[trying] to include the unintended participants and to document the unfolding drama in a contemporary urban environment".[5] The results were shown in exhibitions, where they were praised by Colin MacInnes,[6] and also in the book Once a Year: Some Traditional British Customs. In this book (published by Gordon Fraser, uniform with Patrick Ward's Wish You Were Here), Sykes presents one or more photographs of and a detailed explanatory text for each of 81 customs — for example three photographs (on pp. 105–108) of the annual auction on the first Monday following St Peter's day (29 June) at the Grapes Inn of the mowing and grazing rights to Yarnton Meadow (or Yarnton West Mead), Yarnton (Oxfordshire). Once a Year has been described as "a beautifully photographed, tender and often humorous document";[7] and, 32 years after its publication, as remaining "[p]robably the best study of English folklore and ritual".[8]

After absorbing advice from David Hurn, then a part-time lecturer at LCP who was living nearby, as well as other photographers that he met through Hurn,[2] Sykes moved on to photographing news stories for the Weekend Telegraph, Observer, Sunday Times, Newsweek, Now, Time,[2] and New Society.[4] He worked with various agencies including Viva,[9] and from 1989 to 2005 was with Network Photographers.

Sykes also photographed the British landscape for various books published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, but found time for his own projects: Hunting with Hounds, "a closely observed documentation of another set of rituals that define a dimension of the English way of life",[8] and On the Road Again, photographs of four North American road trips taken over three decades.[10]

When the Grimstone Foundation invited Sykes to photograph Shanghai, the city of his conception, he jumped at the opportunity. A high point for the photographer was his discovery that the building on Jiang Xi Lu where his parents lived still existed, as the Fu Zhou building.[1] Sykes's collection was exhibited and published as Shanghai Odyssey.

Sykes has taught in the master's course in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication.[11]


Solo exhibitions[edit]

Other exhibitions[edit]

Permanent collections[edit]



  • Stonehenge: 1970s Counterculture. Cafe Royal, 2013.
  • Working Men: Club and Coal. Cafe Royal, 2013.
  • Blitz Kids: Skins and Silver Spoons. Cafe Royal, 2013.
  • Once a Year: 1970s Folklore in Britain. Cafe Royal, 2013.
  • Toff's Hat Flat Cap. Cafe Royal, 2013.


  1. ^ a b Homer Sykes, "Photographer's statement", Shanghai Odyssey (Stockport: Dewi Lewis, 2002), n.p.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Graham Harrison, "Homer Sykes", Photo Histories, Accessed 2010-01-22.
  3. ^ Neil Lyndon, "No place like someone else's home", Daily Telegraph, 30 June 2001. Accessed 2010-01-22.
  4. ^ a b David Alan Mellor, No Such Thing as Society, 15, n.13.
  5. ^ "We are here: Martin Parr, Anna Pavord and others on photographing Britain", Tate etc, issue 10, Summer 2007. Accessed 2010-03-28.
  6. ^ David Alan Mellor, No Such Thing as Society: Photography in Britain 1967–1987: From the British Council and the Arts Council Collection (London: Hayward Publishing, 2007; ISBN 978-1-85332-265-5), 15.
  7. ^ Simon Roberts, "Once a Year: Homer Sykes", We English, 22 September 2008. Accessed 2010-01-22.
  8. ^ a b Peter Hamilton, "Now the time returns again", British Journal of Photography, 18 November 2009. Accessed 2010-01-22.
  9. ^ "Viva, une agence de photographes: 1972-1982", Jeu de Paume, 2007. (French) Accessed 2010-03-31.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Homer Sykes biography, How We Are: Photographing Britain from the 1840s to the Present, ed. Val Williams and Susan Bright (London: Tate Publishing, 2007; ISBN 978-1-85437-714-2), p.221.
  11. ^ "MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography", London College of Communication. Accessed 2010-03-31.
  12. ^ Description of poster, Amber Online. Accessed 2010-04-09.
  13. ^ Joanna Pitman, "Ghost of the Past: Homer Sykes's portrait of Shanghai old and new captivates", Times (London), 21 May 2003. Accessed 2010-01-22.
  14. ^ Exhibition notice, Hereford Photography Festival. Accessed 2010-01-22.
  15. ^ "Photography & the Archive Research Centre", Facebook. Accessed 2010-07-02.
  16. ^ Exhibition record, British Council. Accessed 2010-01-11. This does not specify the place(s) of exhibition, but the OPAC of the libraries of the Province of Prato lists a publication titled Il Regno Unito si diverte that specifies Milan. Accessed 2010-05-08.
  17. ^ a b "The Other Britain Revisited: Photographs from New Society", Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010. Accessed 2010-05-02.
  18. ^ Exhibition notice, Jeu de Paume, 2007. (French) Mathieu Menossi, "Ethique photographique: Exposition Viva, une agence photographique au Jeu de Paume", Evene.fr, February 2007. (French) Both accessed 2010-03-31.
  19. ^ Blake Morrison, "Think of England", Guardian, 19 May 2007. Accessed 2010-01-22.
  20. ^ Benjamin Secher, "Portraits of a strange land", Daily Telegraph, 14 May 2007. Accessed 2010-01-22.
  21. ^ Press release for the exhibition, British Council. Accessed 29 March 2010.
  22. ^ Cathy Lomax, "Grayson Perry: Unpopular culture", Daily Telegraph, 3 June 2008. Accessed 2010-01-22.
  23. ^ "Goodbye London: Radical Art and Politics in the Seventies", NGBK. "Goodbye London: Radical art and politics in the seventies", art-report.com. Both accessed 2010-07-02.
  24. ^ Sean O'Hagan, "Mass Photography: Blackpool Through the Camera" review and slideshow, Guardian, 31 July 2011. "6/08/2011 — 5/11/2011: Mass Photography: Blackpool through the camera", Grundy Art Gallery. All three accessed 31 July 2011.
  25. ^ Mac Birmingham Summer Brochure 1011, issuu.com. Accessed 30 April 2012.
  26. ^ Pete James, "Art Fund Award for Birmingham Library", British Photo History. Accessed 2010-04-09.
  27. ^ Homer Sykes in the British Council collection. Accessed 2010-01-22.
  28. ^ As was found on 2010-04-09 by entering the photographer's name in the Collections search page.
  29. ^ Polly Corrigan, "Road works", Daily Telegraph, 23 October 2002. Accessed 2010-01-22.
  30. ^ Peter Marshall, "Cowboys, cars, and the road." In pp. 4–7. The Journal of London Independent Photography, Autumn 2002 issue (PDF file). Accessed 2010-01-22.

External links[edit]