Homer Sykes

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



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 the following year, 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 Homer's mother remarried in 1954, the family moved to England. As a teenager, Homer was a keen photographer, with a darkroom at home and at boarding school. In 1968 he embarked on a three year course at the London College of Printing, 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".

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, ObserverSunday Times, Newsweek, NowTime, 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.