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 (LCP),[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] Annie-Laure Wanaverbecq of Maison de la photographie Robert Doisneau writes that "Observing his countrymen with humour and curiosity, over several years [Sykes] produced a fabulous visual archive of a nation in crisis and beset by doubt."[9]

Sykes went on to photograph the glam rock, punk, new wave and other music/fashion scenes of Britain.[10]

Michaël Houlette of Maison de la photographie Robert Doisneau writes:

The combination of several people in the same frame characterizes most of the photographs by Homer Sykes selected for [an exhibition of his work of the 1970s]. Often the structure of his images rests on two or three main figures who stand out and reveal themselves by an expression or attitude. There is no overly obvious direction or composition, just a keen observation and a systematic method of shooting: a short focal length, some preliminary observation and a certain English manner, frank and courteous, to come in contact with people that he sometimes photographs at very close range (surprisingly, they also seem to ignore the photographer who is at work). Present at the event, invisible in the image, Homer Sykes made discretion a real trademark. And if it's evidence of knowing how to see, it's the relinquishment of the frame to those he photographs: "My pictures are about people, what they wear, how they look, how they interact with each other, against a background that sets the scene. They are not about me".[11]

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,[12] 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.[13]

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.

In 2014, Maison de la photographie Robert Doisneau (Gentilly, Paris) holds a major exhibition of Sykes' work from the 1970s.[9][10]


Solo exhibitions[edit]

Other exhibitions[edit]

Permanent collections[edit]



  • Stonehenge: 1970s Counterculture. Southport: Café Royal, 2013.[43]
  • Working Men: Club and Coal. Southport: Café Royal, 2013.[44]
  • Blitz Kids: Skins and Silver Spoons. Southport: Café Royal, 2013.[45]
  • Once a Year: 1970s Folklore in Britain. Southport: Café Royal, 2013.[46]
  • Toff's Hat Flat Cap. Southport: Café Royal, 2013.[47]
  • Brick Lane and Co: Whitechapel in the 1970s. Southport: Café Royal, 2013.[48]
  • A Tinker's Tale. Southport: Café Royal, 2013.[49]
  • Once a Year: Folklore in Britain Now. Southport: Café Royal, 2013.[50]
  • Saltaire 1981: Still a Model Mill Village. Southport: Café Royal, 2014. On Saltaire, a model village in Bradford.[51]


  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 2014-06-14.
  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. Archived 12 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ a b c Annie-Laure Wanaverbecq, "Homer Sykes: England 1970–1980", Maison de la photographie Robert Doisneau, 2014. (French) Accessed 9 July 2014. (Observant ses concitoyens avec humour et curiosité, il produit pendant plusieurs années une fabuleuse archive visuelle de la vie ordinaire dans un pays en crise et en proie au doute.)
  10. ^ a b c Michaël Houlette, "« England 1970-1980 » par Homer Sykes à la Maison de la Photographie Robert Doisneau", Actuphoto, 11 April 2014. (French) Accessed 9 July 2014.
  11. ^ Michaël Houlette, "« England 1970-1980 » par Homer Sykes à la Maison de la Photographie Robert Doisneau", Actuphoto, 11 April 2014. (French) Accessed 9 July 2014. (La réunion de plusieurs personnages dans un même cadre caractérise la plupart des photographies d'Homer Sykes sélectionnées pour ce projet. Bien souvent la structure de ses images repose sur deux ou trois figures principales qui se distinguent et se dévoilent par une expression ou une attitude. Il n'y a pas de mise ou scène ni de composition trop évidente, juste une observation fine et une méthode systématique de prise de vue: une focale courte, quelques repérages préalables et une certaine manière anglaise, franche et courtoise, d'entrer en contact avec les personnes qu'il photographie parfois à très faible distance (étonnamment, celles-ci semble d'ailleurs ignorer le photographe qui est à l'œuvre). Présent à l'évènement, invisible dans l'image, Homer Sykes fait de la discrétion une véritable marque de fabrique. Et s'il fait preuve d'un "savoir voir", c'est pour laisser le champ libre à ces sujets. . . .)
  12. ^ "Viva, une agence de photographes: 1972-1982", Jeu de Paume, 2007. (French) Accessed 2014-06-14.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Description of poster, Amber Online. Accessed 2010-04-09.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Exhibition notice, Hereford Photography Festival. Accessed 2010-01-22.
  17. ^ "Photography & the Archive Research Centre", Facebook. Accessed 2010-07-02. (registration required)
  18. ^ Exhibition record at the Wayback Machine (archived 12 May 2006), 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.
  19. ^ a b "The Other Britain Revisited: Photographs from New Society", Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010. Accessed 2010-05-02.
  20. ^ "Viva, une agence photographique", Jeu de Paume, 2007. (French) Accessed 2014-06-14.
  21. ^ Mathieu Menossi, "Ethique photographique: Exposition Viva, une agence photographique au Jeu de Paume", Evene.fr, via Figaro.fr, February 2007. (French) Accessed 2014-04-14.
  22. ^ Blake Morrison, "Think of England", Guardian, 19 May 2007. Accessed 2014-06-14.
  23. ^ Benjamin Secher, "Portraits of a strange land", Daily Telegraph, 14 May 2007. Accessed 2010-01-22.
  24. ^ Press release for the exhibition, British Council. Accessed 2010-03-29.
  25. ^ Cathy Lomax, "Grayson Perry: Unpopular culture", Daily Telegraph, 3 June 2008. Accessed 2010-01-22.
  26. ^ "Goodbye London: Radical Art and Politics in the Seventies", NGBK. Archived 10 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  27. ^ "Goodbye London: Radical art and politics in the seventies", art-report.com. Accessed 2010-07-02.
  28. ^ Sean O'Hagan, "Mass Photography: Blackpool through the Camera" review and slideshow, Guardian, 31 July 2011. Both accessed 2014-06-14.
  29. ^ "6/08/2011 — 5/11/2011: Mass Photography: Blackpool through the camera", Grundy Art Gallery. Accessed 2011-07-31.
  30. ^ Mac Birmingham Summer Brochure 1011, issuu.com. Accessed 2012-04-30.
  31. ^ Hazel Johnson, Photo 50 ‘A Cyclical Poem’ curated by Nick Hackworth, Photomonitor. Accessed 2014-06-14.
  32. ^ Rob Alderson, "Interesting group photography show questions nature of time and change", It's nice that, 16 January 2013. Accessed 2014-06-14.
  33. ^ "Photo50 at the London Art Fair", AnOther, 17 January 2013. Accessed 2014-06-14.
  34. ^ "Country Matters", James Hyman Gallery. Accessed 2014-06-12.
  35. ^ "Picturing Derry", cityofculture2013.com. Accessed 2014-06-12.
  36. ^ "The Male Gaze", James Hyman Gallery. Accessed 2014-06-12.
  37. ^ Pete James, "Art Fund Award for Birmingham Library", British Photo History. Accessed 2010-04-09.
  38. ^ Homer Sykes in the British Council collection. Accessed 2010-01-22.
  39. ^ As was found on 2010-04-09 by entering the photographer's name in the Collections search page.
  40. ^ List of photographers collected, Museum Folkwang. Accessed 2014-07-11.
  41. ^ Polly Corrigan, "Road works", Daily Telegraph, 23 October 2002. Accessed 2010-01-22.
  42. ^ 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.
  43. ^ "Stonehenge: 1970s Counterculture", Café Royal Books. Accessed 2014-06-14.
  44. ^ "Working Men: Club and Coal", Café Royal Books. Accessed 2014-06-14.
  45. ^ "Blitz Kids: Skins and Silver Spoons", Café Royal Books. Accessed 2014-06-14.
  46. ^ "Once a Year: 1970s Folklore in Britain", Café Royal Books. Accessed 2014-06-14.
  47. ^ "Toff's Hat Flat Cap", Café Royal Books. Accessed 2014-06-14.
  48. ^ "Brick Lane and Co: Whitechapel in the 1970s", Café Royal Books. Accessed 2014-06-14.
  49. ^ "A Tinker's Tale", Café Royal Books. Accessed 2014-06-14.
  50. ^ "Once a Year: 1970s Folklore in Britain", Café Royal Books. Accessed 2014-06-14.
  51. ^ "Saltaire 1981: Still a Model Mill Village", Café Royal Books. Accessed 2014-06-14.

External links[edit]