Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Homer Sykes (b.1949) is a Canadian-born British photographer

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

Life and career

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 couple 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.
When the boy's mother remarried in 1954, the family moved to England. 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), while sharing a house in St John's Wood. 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.
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. This led him to research other local festivals in Britain at the archives of the Cecil Sharp House. 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". The results were shown in exhibitions, where they were praised by Colin MacInnes, 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"; and, 32 years after its publication, as remaining "[p]robably the best study of English folklore and ritual". 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."
Sykes went on to photograph the glam rock, punk, new wave and other music/fashion scenes of Britain.
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".
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, Sykes moved on to photographing news stories for the Weekend Telegraph, Observer, Sunday Times, Newsweek, Now, Time, and New Society. He worked with various agencies including Viva, 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", and On the Road Again, photographs of four North American road trips taken over three decades.
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. 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.

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