vrijdag 11 augustus 2017

The Three Communists Kassel Documenta 14 2017 Hans Eijkelboom Conceptual Photography

For close to a quarter century now, Hans Eijkelboom has been taking to the shopping streets of countless cities around the world (Amsterdam, New York, Paris, Shanghai—and now also Athens and Kassel) to photographically record the dizzying sartorial diversity that is such a defining hallmark of global capitalism—a plethora of visual (“surface”) difference that, when viewed from the perspective of an artist interested in discerning patterns, i.e., repetition, inevitably results in a document of arresting sameness.

A number of Eijkelboom’s mid-1970s photo projects, such as the aptly titled Identiteiten (Identities, 1973), presaged two defining features of the street photography that he is best known for, and which has preoccupied him since the early 1990s—his programmatic predilection for working in series on the one hand (a matter of form), and an almost exclusive focus on dress code on the other hand (a matter of content).

Eijkelboom, born in Arnhem in 1949, is a member of a generation of Dutch artists who played a key role in the establishment of conceptual photography in Continental Europe. His initial forays into photography had a strong performative bent, and almost exclusively involved one type of autoportraiture or other—“the presentation of self in everyday life,” in Erving Goffman’s felicitous phrase. These works were clearly informed by the efflorescence of 1970s Dutch performance art, all the while keying into the emerging discourse of post-1960s identity politics—the photo triptych De Drie Communisten (The Three Communists, 1976) presenting the artist dressed up as a Marxist, Leninist, and Maoist respectively, speaks volumes in this regard—though infused with a deadpan sense of humor all too often lacking in subsequent identity-based art practices. (Comedy, in his ongoing encyclopedic project, is a function of the illusion that dress cannot ever guarantee true distinction.)

Although there is an element of distancing in Eijkelboom’s work that may lend his project an anthropologizing, exoticizing slant (echoes of Desmond Morris’s 1969 The Human Zoo here), his is a deeply humanist practice at heart, and it is no coincidence that his work has often been compared to that of the great chronicler of twentieth-century humanity, August Sander—his work was recently surveyed, fittingly, at the August Sander Archiv in Cologne. It is tempting to characterize Eijkelboom’s subjects quite simply as “people of the twenty-first century” in turn, though presented in cool-headed, gridded sequences reminiscent of the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher and other pioneers of conceptual photography: a subject-object balancing act.
—Dieter Roelstraete

Hans Eijkelboom
(b. 1949, Arnhem, Netherlands)

The Street & Modern Life, Birmingham, U.K. (2014)
Digital video, color, silent
30 min.

EMST—National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens
De Drie Communisten (The three Communists, 1975)
Black-and-white photograph
58 × 120 cm
Neue Galerie, Kassel

Photo Notes 1992–2017 (2017)
270 inkjet prints
50 × 60 cm each
Stadtmuseum Kassel, Kassel


US: OCT 2014

A group of 15 women wearing jean skirts. A group of 12 men wearing t-shirts emblazoned with animals. Middle-aged women in fur coats. Middle-aged men in tan trenchcoats. Multiple people with Louis Vuitton accessories. Dozens of people wearing white jackets. Yellow jackets. Red jackets. Fur-trimmed hoods. Burqas. Printed pants. Fanny packs. Cropped pants. Keffiyehs. Sun visors. Saris. Rain ponchos. And, of course, Canadian tuxedos.

These are just some of the clothing items that show up in People of the Twenty-First Century, a new book of street photography by Dutch photographer and conceptual artist Hans Eijkelboom. These photos are taken from Eijkelboom’s long-standing “Photo Notes” project, wherein he would station himself near shopping centres, museums, or busy city intersections and look for a clothing trend or sometimes common behaviour. After noticing the trend, such as women wearing striped tank tops or shirtless men on rollerblades, Eijkelboom would photograph these passersby. The results of the project are presented in People of the Twenty-First Century, signaling Eijkelboom as a photographer of street style.

Since the early ‘00s, street photographers have been documenting “street style”. Street style photographers capture “unique” and “interesting” outfits worn mostly by non-celebrities. The outfits that capture the attention of the street style photographer are usually admired because they strike a balance between “sophistication” and “elegance” on the one hand and “edginess”, “individuality”, and “quirkiness” on the other hand. The people featured on street style blogs create outfits that are well-coordinated, different, and have the potential to stand out in a crowd.

This kind of photography has evolved and changed over the past several years. For a time, street style photographers sought out their subjects, happening upon them in the streets or museums of the elite cities of the world. Many of us swooned over blogs like The Sartorialist and later Hel Looks. Maybe, if we lived in one of these cities, wondered why no one ever stopped us for a photo. Eventually, people began to make subjects of themselves, creating and maintaining a social media presence to show off their style and #ootd to a larger audience. Facilitated by the #selfie, we encourage others to notice and appreciate our great bargains, designer items, smart choices, and evolving styles.

There is much to read, even if primarily online, about how the rise of street style photography and fashion blogging have democratized fashionableness and made it accessible to the citizenry. One no longer needs to be a model, editor, designer, or actor to become a “presence” in the fashion world.

In fact, the writers of prominent style blogs have become present in the industry, covering openings, fashion weeks, and other important industry events. At present, street style photography captures the mega-outfits worn by the non-celebrity people who lurk outside of runway shows at the various fashion weeks. On street style blogs or in magazines that now have pages devoted to street style, the outfits are well thought out, and often comprised of a careful and complex combination of pieces from high- and low-fashion.

Yet, many of the items and outfits featured by street style photographers and increasingly bloggers can produce an alienating rather than a democratizing effect. Street-style-caliber outfits are not especially practical for people with young children, or for people without the time or inclination to stay apprised of lightning-fast trend cycles. They are also often out of the reach of people who are not thin, as well as those without the disposable income (or copious credit) to regularly update their wardrobes.

One of the things that makes People of the Twenty-First Century so compelling and so significant, then, is that it both broadens and upends the predominant understanding of street style as supercool, unique outfits worn by supercool, unique people. The book inverts the now-sedimented notion of street style, and re-articulates it as a broad category of sartorial expression that parallels and subverts the orderliness and systematicity of human culture.

Hans Eijkelboom (b. 1949) is a Dutch photographer and conceptual artist based in Amsterdam. Active since the ‘70s, he was part of the Dutch movement of conceptual artists whose engagements with “machine-like image reproduction and a radically deskilled anti-photography” informed Eijkelboom’s approach. Eijkelboom uses photography as the medium through which to execute his conceptual art works. In 1975, he completed “De Drie Communisten (The Three Communists)”, which depicted him next to portraits of Marx, Lenin, and Mao while wearing outfits that matched each communist.

Eijkelboom’s projects have also been united by a commitment to self-portraiture, underlined by what Tony Godfrey calls a “concern with identity, how we present ourselves and how others perceive us”. In 1973, he completed a photo series in which he photographed other people wearing his clothes (“People Wearing my Clothes”). Because Eijkelboom has long been committed to a methodical and meticulous approach to the image, his photographs are typically presented as serial images in a grid-like format.

The “Photo Notes” project, from which People of the Twenty-First Century emerges, started in November 1992 when Eijkelboom started a photo diary comprised of up to 80 photographs every day. Eijkelboom created a set of rules for photographing, and he followed them exactly. He would go into town, station himself outside of a city landmark or busy intersection, and wait until he noticed the repetition of a certain item of clothing or perhaps a behavior. Once he noticed something of interest (people wearing leather jackets) or selected a behavior (two women walking arm-in-arm), he would photograph as many people as he could find wearing the clothing or engaged in the behavior.

People of the Twenty-First Century displays Eijkelboom’s surreptitious street photographs in grids, with anywhere from nine to 15 images per page. Each page is “stamped” with a date, time, and location; the photos are presented in chronological order. The photographs were taken primarily in Amsterdam and Arnhem, NL (where Eijkelboom was previously based), but the book is decidedly international in scope. Taken together, the photographs are both indicative of and distinct from the assumptions that might be held about what clothing choices dominate in which locations. People wear fur coats in New York City and Paris, argyle sweaters in Nairobi and São Paolo, Che Guevara t-shirts in Amsterdam, Jesus t-shirts in Mexico City, “migrant worker bags” in Shanghai, over-the-knee socks in Tokyo, niqabs in Marrakech, hoodies in Cairo.

Several reviews have pointed out that People of the Twenty-First Century is a book about difference within sameness. Reviewers note that Eijkelboom’s photographs show us that even though people wear the same clothing items, they wear them in unique ways.

In his essay at the end of the book, David Carrier writes that Eijkelboom “uses repetition to communicate awareness of difference: the closer you look at any page of this book, the more diverse you will find the people who are dressed in similar ways.” Eijkelboom’s photos reveal, Carrier implies, the diversity among people and their fashion choices. In 2007, for instance, it was considered on-trend to wear a short jean skirt paired with leggings. (Eventually, we did away with the skirts.) On 24 April 2007, Eijkelboom photographed 15 women dressed this way. However, when one looks more closely at these photos, they discover that each woman has her own expression of this look. The shoes and tops worn with the jean skirts are different, as are the jean skirts themselves; some are pleated, some are frayed, and one is actually jean-skirt overalls. The women are racially diverse, and they have a range of hair styles.

At the same time, it’s important to consider whether the differences in the styling of cookie-cutter clothing are significant enough to applaud. Are minuscule variations on the same clothing item actually tantamount to difference in expression? Do we actually see difference and distinction when someone pairs Lululemon leggings with a blue racer-back tank top instead of a green ribbed tank top?

Importantly, Eijkelboom’s photographs illustrate not that clothing items themselves are monotonous but that the idea of a particular clothing item is itself uninspired. The book presents leopard print tops, flower-print tops, striped tops, blazers, hoodies, and scarves; however, all of these items are made distinct in terms of cut, shape, length, material. Insofar as the items are rendered distinguishable by details of tailoring and pattern, it is the idea or the concept of a leopard print top that is revealed to be redundant.

By focusing on the banality of and distinctions within unremarkable or “basic” clothing choices, Eijekboom’s photographs reveal, as Dieter Roelstraete argues, the “illusory logic of individuation” that upholds both the garment industry and fashion journalism. The book’s focus on the repetition of clothing items and, in turn, the paradoxical uniformity of personal style undermines the idea that we in the West understand our style as something that establishes us as distinct individuals. People of the Twenty-First Century shows us this in photographs of people wearing different iterations of the same clothing item, and it also shows us this across the photographs.

Nowhere is the uniformity of style more evident, however, than in the book’s representation of men in business suits alongside women in animal-print tops alongside men in NYPD police uniforms. The juxtaposition of these sets of photographs undermines our belief in the idea that fashion and clothing enable us to express our individuality.

Ultimately, in the way that People of the Twenty-First Century asks us to look at red jacket after red jacket after red jacket, it summons us to inadvertently elide the people wearing those jackets. In the way that the photos invisibilize the wearers of the clothes, it breaks down the belief that what we wear is somehow indicative of who we are.

Eijkelboom’s photographs also reveal the astonishing repetition of fashion trends and the patent eagerness of the public to continuously consume the same things as new trends. Photos from Amsterdam show a recurring trend of bare, female midriffs in 1997, 1999, 2001, and 2006. In 2014, after Photo Notes ended, there was another resurgence of the bare midriff via the repopularization of the crop top. Because our sartorial attention has been shortened by an industry that cycles through trends at warp speed (Cline, Overdressed), we get excited about “new” items, even if they have already been trendy before.

Along these lines, the photos also reveal our never-ending consumptive practices: there are dozens of photos of people carrying shopping bags, whether from department stores like Macy’s or fast-fashion go-tos like Topshop. In the context of the book, such photos suggest that endless consumption in mainstream stores, which profit from conformity, will never facilitate anyone having a unique personal style.

We also see the depiction of uniform style across age categories. When the jean-skirt-and-leggings trend was big in 2007, it was primarily worn by younger women. Yet, older people are also shown sharing different items in common: one page shows photographs of primarily older people wearing fleece zip-up sweaters; most of the women depicted in furs are also older. Especially revealing is the way that children are depicted throughout People of the Twenty-First Century. As much as we in the West encourage our children to believe that they are special and unique, Eijkelboom shows us that we often err on the side conformity, as is made clear by the photos of female children wearing Spice Girls t-shirts or pigtails.

People of the Twenty-First Century also shows us how the monotony and repetition of clothing circulates in a globalized context. Eijkelboom includes photos taken in Mumbai in 2010. One series of photos captures women in saris; another shows men in button-up shirts paired with recently re-popularized Gandhi caps; another series shows men and women in graphic t-shirts worn with jeans. Photos from Nairobi bear a similar pattern. Photos like these not only affirm the transplantation of Western clothing into the countries that largely produce it; they also demonstrate how people in non-Western countries are engaged in a complex blending of Western clothing with traditional items and styles.

This is a complex, thought-provoking, interactive and entertaining collection of photography. Eijkelboom’s approach to street style photography is effective because it parodies the unique-individual-who-stands-out-in-a-crowd trope. The photos isolate the individual in a crowd only to show that they are not distinct from those in the crowd from which they came. In this way, People of the Twenty-First Century shows us the absurdity of the concept of unique style but also helps us understand how people make their own looks out of repetitive cycles of the same things. Although the book is promoted as an assemblage of “anti-sartorial photographs of street life”, its take on fashion is, in the end, neither dismissive nor uncritically accepting of the notion of personal style.

zaterdag 5 augustus 2017

My Library is my Museum Photobook Phenomenon VicenC Villatoro Photography

Photobook Phenomenon
VicenC Villatoro
ISBN 10: 8417047050 / ISBN 13: 9788417047054
Published by Rm/Ccccb/Fundacion Foto Colectania
Hardcover. Dimensions: 10.2in. x 7.5in. x 1.0in.As the photobook becomes increasingly broadly recognized as a genre with its own rich history, canon and critical culture, Photobook Phenomenon surveys the views of those who have played a leading role in defining this genre: Martin Parr, Gerry Badger, Markus Schaden and Frederic Lezmi, Horacio Fernandez, Ryuichi Kaneko, Erik Kessels, Irene de Mendoza and Moritz Neumuller. In addition, it features various contemporary artists who have contributed a genuine vision to the medium and who discuss the creative processes involved in producing a photobook: Laia Abril, Julian Baron, Alejandro Cartagena, Jana Romanova, Vivianne Sassen, Thomas Sauvin i Katja Stuke and Oliver Sieber. Photobook Phenomenon also explores the challenge of displaying a photobook through a number of interactive systems that make it possible to look through and experience the book and photography from diverse viewpoints.

The exhibition highlights the role of the photobook in contemporary visual culture and takes it as the departure point for a reinterpretation of the history of photography. Nine curators with years of expertise in the forefront of the photobook movement share their respective visions in a joint exhibition at the CCCB and at Fundació Foto Colectania.
Publications illustrated with photographs, also known as photography books or simply photobooks, have grown in popularity in recent years and now occupy a central place in contemporary photography.

The exhibition runs simultaneously at the CCCB and at Fundació Foto Colectania, tracing the history of the photobook from its origins to contemporary production. It does so through the eyes of nine international curators who are experts in the field: Gerry Badger, Horacio Fernández, Ryuichi Kaneko, Erik Kessels, Martin Parr, Markus Schaden, Frederic Lezmi, Irene de Mendoza and Moritz Neumüller, who is the executive curator of the overall project.

The book is the natural home for photography.
Gerry Badger, photographer and curator

The phenomenon
Recent years have seen a period of great expansion for photobooks, which now occupy a central position in contemporary photography. Today, more books are produced than ever; they are bought and sold, swapped and collected. Independent or self-publishing of books and zines has become a high impact phenomenon in both the editorial and the artistic sector, and now, at the peak of the digital era, we are seeing a return to the printed object. For many artists, this format is not just a useful means for showing their photographs, but also the perfect space for experimentation and creativity. Added to these factors there is also a growing interest in reinterpreting the history of photography in terms of the historic role of the photobook and printed photographs, as shown by ambitious studies and projects conducted worldwide.

Contemporary talents
Also taking part in the exhibition are various contemporary artists who bring their own very special vision to the medium, as well as illustrating the processes of creation of a photobook: Laia Abril, Julián Barón, Alejandro Cartagena, Jana Romanova, Vivianne Sassen, Thomas Sauvin and Katja Stuke & Oliver Sieber.

A photobook is a story in images.
Turning its pages is like watching a film or reading a novel.
Horacio Fernández, photographer and curator

An exhibition with over 500 photobooks
Among its many contents, Photobook Phenomenon ranges from the works of Rodchenko, William Klein and Robert Frank to Japanese photobooks, pioneers in the phenomenon. Photographer Martin Parr presents the best examples from his own private collection. A section dedicated to photobooks of protest and propaganda brings together the most radical designs. Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Gabriel Cualladó and Henri Cartier-Bresson are other names present in the exhibition, along with the latest proposals by renowned contemporary artists who bring their own very special vision to the medium, such as Laia Abril and Vivian Sassen, as well as illustrating the processes of creation of a photobook.

We are seeing a marked return to the printed object.
Moritz Neumüller, executive curator of the exhibition

The challenge of displaying photobooks
Photobook Phenomenon also addresses the challenge of exhibiting a photobook, using various interactive systems to explore and “experience” the book and the photograph from very differing viewpoints.

The show sets out to bring the photobook to a broad public; to do so, it has recourse to various digital devices and technologies, such as video and touch screens, along with reading areas and a series of parallel activities related to the communities associated with the world of the photobook.

Exhibition layout
Photobook Phenomenon is divided into seven thematic sections that dialogue with each other to give us an idea of what a photobook is, from very differing perspectives. Six of the sections (plus the reading space at Beta Station) are located at the CCCB and the seventh one at Foto Colectania (Passeig Picasso, 14, Barcelona). They can be visited independently or jointly, without changing the meaning of the show.

The exhibition is organized in seven exhibition chapters and one reading space in the Beta Station of the CCCB:
The Collector’s Vision. Martin Parr’s Best Photobooks
Propaganda books versus protest books
Reading New York. A PhotoBookStudy on William Klein's “Life is Good & Good for You in New York”
Five Aspects of Japanese Photobooks
Contemporary Practices + Contemporary Photobooks (Beta Station)
Fascinations and Failures
The library is the museum (displayed at Foto Colectania)
More information on the chapters of the exhibition in the field "Sections".

Life is Good & Good For You in New York by William Klein from The Klieg Light on Vimeo.

woensdag 2 augustus 2017

Views & Reviews This is England Homer Sykes Photography

Homer Sykes This is England Poursuite Editions
Published 2014 for my exhibition at the Maison de la Photographic Robert Doisneau. Paris.
9 x 6.25 inches 36 pages.

Homer Sykes: 'Photographers are lemmings'
Fed up with photojournalism, Homer Sykes decided to chase after Britain’s inner essence in the 1970s. From awkward stripteases to weary miners and picnics at the races, he caught a country seething with class conflict

Miners resting, Snowdown colliery, Aylesham
Snowdown colliery, Aylesham, Kent, 1970s. All photographs: Homer Sykes

Sarah Moroz
Wednesday 9 September 2015 13.37 BST Last modified on Wednesday 9 September 2015 17.04 BST

It’s 1971, and two bashful-looking women are doing a striptease on stage at a village fair. A giant sliver of Humphrey Bogart’s eye is visible too. Bogie’s expression from Casablanca, so key to his legacy, seems prescient here: “Here’s looking at you, kid.” In just one photograph, Homer Sykes has made a perfect voyeuristic echo of a gawking audience, a true glimpse of the male gaze.

You can read a lot into every photograph taken by Sykes. His show My Britain 1970-1980, now on in Paris, traces daily life in the UK – and overflows with social commentary on the crossroads of the class system.

 Striptease tent at Pinner annual fair, 1971

The picture Coal Miners, Snowdown Colliery, Kent (1976) is a case in point. He went to shoot miners voting about the unions, but what could have been a pedestrian look at policy turned into a filmic glance at men smoking, naked and weary, in their locker room. It summed up the plight of the trade forcefully. “I always try to go through the door that’s closed, to see what’s really going on,” Sykes says.

He started out as a photojournalist in the 1970s, working for the Observer, the Telegraph, Newsweek and Time. But photojournalism was often an awkward fit for him. “If you get a pack of guys going off to shoot something … they all do the same picture. Photographers are lemmings,” he says. “I didn’t want to be just a magazine photographer who delivered pictures to fit a brief.”

Instead, he became a portraitist of his own country, probing the customs deemed typically British. In the early 1970s, he went to Lancashire to shoot the local Easter celebrations, which inspired a long-term project. In 1977, he published his first book, called Once a Year: Some Traditional British Customs, on old-fashioned fetes from Garland Day to Burning the Bartle. Forty years on, he’s gone back to re-photograph the rituals, and the differences are palpable. “Everyone’s aware of being photographed now,” he says. Moreover, he explains, in the 1970s “it was relatively easy to distinguish an upper-class couple by the swagger of their dress.” But today’s “urban classless metrosexual man is impossible to pigeonhole”.

 A picnic at the Derby, Epsom Downs, Surrey, 1970

Sykes likes to home in on details that hit a nerve. “I’m always trying to find something that sums up what’s going on, what I’m feeling, what British society is feeling,” he says. “I’m always looking for contrasts.” The working class and the well-to-do are often juxtaposed in comic images that show their incongruities. One such example – A Day at the Races, Derby Day Picnic Horse-Racing at Epsom Downs (1970) – pits the haves and have-nots in the same shot. In the car park at Epsom, a cheery picnic is propped up before a flashy car, whose prim owners have returned with their chauffeur to claim it.

 Margaret and Barry Kirkbride, Workington, Cumbria, 1975

In this exhibition, Sykes makes a mirror using two couples of different social strata. Margaret and Barry Kirkbride. Workington, Cumbria (1975) are photographed in the north of England: long hair, tartan trousers, hip and young and working class. “They looked so typical,” Sykes says admiringly. Nearby hangs another young couple: he’s in a Prince of Wales checked suit and loafers, bottle of Pimms in hand; she’s in a Laura Ashleyesque floral dress and espadrilles. “How English can you get!” he says.

His shots may seem like lucky happenstance, but they’re extremely precise. “I don’t ‘snatch’ pictures,” he says. “Everything is planned – it takes very little time to do it, but it’s all thought about.” He looks for cues from 20ft away; when a person looks promising, he approaches, assessing the appropriate background, until he’s about eight feet away. Back when he was using a Leica camera, he would measure the exposure and pre-focus beforehand. “I normally bend my knees a little bit,” he says, showing me with a little plié, “and go tch-tch-tch – three or four frames. I shoot quietly. No eye contact.” He knows the right background by instinct. One day, he trailed a woman wearing a floral hat around the Chelsea Flower Show in London for some minutes. When she stood right before a wall of flowers, the flora on her head blended in perfectly. He knew it was the perfect shot.

 Waiting for money to be washed up in the tide after a storm, Brighton beach, 1970

Sykes is antsy for greater recognition of his life’s work. He photographs less regularly these days, but he’s still highly ambitious. “When I was younger, I thought I could be a Magnum photographer, and looked up to Cartier-Bresson, Winogrand, Friedlander,” he says. “I arrogantly set about to do that. And I’m still trying.”

My Britain 1970-80 is at Les Douches Gallery, Paris, until 31 October.

Homer Sykes
Nearly four decades after seeing photographic prints hanging on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, British documentary photographer Homer Sykes welcomes the acceptance of photography by Britain’s art establishment, writes Graham Harrison.

The 2007 Tate Britain show ‘How We Are : Photographing Britain’ was the first major exhibition of photography at the premier gallery for British art.

An examination of the British identity through the eyes of the nation’s documentary photographers ‘How We Are’ featured the work of Martin Parr and Daniel Meadows. It also featured the work of Homer Sykes who was inspired to begin a life as a documentary photography during a visit to another great gallery, nearly 40 years earlier.


Since that moment of inspiration Sykes’ career has followed a long path that began with self-financed long term documentary projects and also included editorial and commercial commissions, agency work and teaching before returning to the commitment of more personally inspired documentary projects.

The two most recent of these Hunting with Hounds and On the Road Again have been published by Mansion Editions, his self publishing concern created in 2002.

Homer Sykes was born in 1949 in Vancouver, Canada to American and Canadian parents. His father, killed in China before Homer was born, was a keen amateur photographer as too, it transpired, was Homer’s new step father.

He moved to England with his mother when she remarried in 1954 and by the age of 16 Sykes had built his own darkroom under the the eves of the art department at his boarding school. He also had a darkroom at home for use during the holidays (if the chemistry will not be missed the wonder of your own images emerging in the gloomy red glow of a safe-light had an intimate alchemy now lost to the electronic chip and computer screen).

The young Homer became an avid reader of Camera Owner (later  Creative Camera) and the new newspaper colour supplements. He became interested in creative magazine photography, and in images with a personality that could be attributed to a particular creator rather than to just any photographer. He became especially interested in photographs that were good enough to explain themselves and needed no text.

In 1968 Sykes enrolled for a three year photography course at the London College of Printing (LCP – now LCC) and on his first summer vacation travelled to America where in New York he visited the Museum of Modern Art. There, hanging on the same walls as canvases by the greats of modern painting he found prints from the acknowledged masters of documentary photography. Sykes realised that photography was already seen as art in the United States.

Burk Uzzle, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank, Bruce Davidson and Henri Cartier-Bresson all became instant heroes. “I hoped to – and thought I could – do what they were doing and set out to do it” says Sykes. He wanted to create a fusion in his own style between the American street photographer genre that he loved (because of the way their images appear spontaneous, accidental and stylish) and that of the humanitarian reportage and documentary photography of the old and great Magnum photographers.

Once a Year – Some Traditional British Customs : a discovery in the LCP library led Homer Sykes to his first major, and most career defining subject.


Back at the London College of Printing, Sykes spent his lunch hours wandering the nearby tenements working on his street photography, and browsing magazines in the college library.

Looking for something to shoot for an Easter holiday project he came across a copy of In Britain magazine and a picture of the Bacup Coconut Dancers and decided to travel to Lancashire to photograph their annual Easter dance.

“I then realised that there were many other customs that no one was documenting, and it became fascinating researching the project, which began to grow and grow” said Sykes who spent days at the English Folk Dance Society and other libraries hunting down obscure traditional customs that took place annually around Britain, and then turning up with his Leica M2 and M3 in distant towns and villages to find himself the only photographer in attendance.

Homer Sykes had stumbled upon his first important, and most career defining subject. Success followed with the touring exhibition ‘Personal Views 1850-1970’ put on by the British Council in 1970. In 1971 ‘Traditional British Calendar Customs’ was shown at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, and ‘Traditional Country Customs’ where Homer’s work was shown with the photographs of Sir Benjamin Stone, was held at the ICA in London. Homer’s first book Once a Year – Some Traditional British Customs was published by Gordon Fraser in 1977.

‘How We Are’ : four of the most iconic images of British customs taken by Homer Sykes in 1970 were hung on the walls of Tate Britain in 2007.


One of Homer’s teachers at the LCP was David Hurn, the Magnum photographer who had been with the legendary agency since 1965. Hurn’s flat was just down the road from where Homer lived, and the aspiring photographer used to hang out in the famous meeting place to soak up the atmosphere. There he met Josef Koudelka and Ian Berry, both of whom he got to know well. He also became friendly with Peter Turner of Creative Camera, and Bill Jay who was then publishing Album magazine.

Crucial to his future survival Sykes learnt how vital retaining the rights to his work would be “I once went round to Ian Berry’s home to do some copying of colour slides into B/W and he showed me his monthly archive sales statement from Magnum. We talked about copyright and how important it was for a freelance to keep ownership. At a similar time I remember a conversation with David Hurn in his flat about the importance of the Magnum archive, and how keeping the rights was essential for an independent photographer.”

Around that time in the early 70s Sykes started working with and supplying the agency Viva in Paris, the John Hillelson Agency and Camera Press in London, and Woodfin Camp in New York.

“I was shooting weekend demos, and small news features for them, as well as doing general commissions for these agents. So I knew about selling on a story and stock sales, and retaining my copyright when commissioned.”

“Those days were very different from now, I remember when Viva sold to Bunte the German magazine, a set of photographs of mine taken in Barbados in 1973. My share was £200 and this was not for their use – Bunte had bought the first rights, just to look at the pictures !”

As they offered travel and the possibility of regular and interesting well paid work Sykes sought and got work from all three of the UK’s weekend colour supplements The Sunday Times, The Telegraph and The Observer.

Sykes also worked on hard news stories abroad for the weekly news magazines Newsweek, Time, and the short lived Now! magazine. Assignments included covering conflicts in the Middle East, West Africa and Northern Ireland. For some time it seems Homer was a long way from the coconut dancers of Lancashire.

The compromise was the discrete and lightweight old Leicas had to go into a cupboard and he started using Nikon SLRs which with built-in metering, motor drives, and a variety of optics were more suited to shooting the transparency films required by the magazines of the time.

Today Sykes welcomes the new freedoms automated digital cameras have given to the professional photographer. With his Leicas Homer says he always worked in black and white, intuitively “shooting for the shapes” and enjoying the spontaneity the cameras afforded. Moving by necessity to SLRs and slide film slowed the process of working.

But now he believes the full automation of digital equipment has given him back that old Leica spontaneity. This time in colour. “We are just at the beginning of the digital age, and we should explore the freedoms the technology affords us” says Homer. “The nature of digital means the profession is far more competitive than it ever was, however what’s still most important is what you see, why you look, and how you interpret what you are looking at.”

Homer adds, “It doesn’t really matter about 10 or 20 million pixels, ultimately the best photography is about vision.”


In the 1970s and 80s Homer had many arguments with picture editors and lost commissions because of his insistence on implementing what he had learnt from Berry and Hurn although many picture editors of that generation sympathised with his argument. Some even turned a blind eye to ensure he kept his work.

In 1989 Sykes joined Network Photographers (which had been founded by Mike Abrahams, Mike Goldwater, Barry Lewis, John Sturrock and Chris Davies) but the hoped for stock sales and assignments did not materialise, and by 2000 Network found itself in serious trouble.

Homer believes that neither the agent nor the photographers had grasped the reality of the new photographic age. The old photo agency business dependent on established relationships and courier delivered transparencies and prints was disappearing fast. New well financed global digital corporations like Corbis and Getty were changing the supply and demand of images and editorial stock prices were starting to drop. On top of this new vibrant agencies like Laif and young hungry photographers were moving into Network’s market position.

“We thought Network Photographers could be a boutique agency in a global business and that the Network Photographers name would carry us through the difficult times” says Sykes, “looking back that was quite ridiculous, not least because we were under-funded and badly advised.”

In 2004 fresh finance was found and a new management team was put in place, but it transpired that the new management had no practical experience of the photographic business and Sykes was, “kicked out” of Network because he would not sign an exclusivity contract. Although invited to rejoin in 2005 Homer found that the die had been cast and Network folded in February 2006.

“I never wanted to run my own picture library, but at the same time I was aware of the importance of my collection of images, and of their long term value” says Homer who concedes that life has come full circle, as he now spends most of his time developing and running his archive, much as he had done in the 1970s.

“However, I really wish I was able to do more photography and spend less time in front of a computer screen. But the hope is that once my entire archive is online – and providing the new online libraries don’t change their procedures too much over the coming years – I ought to be able to do less and less online work and get back to photography, creating new stories, sets of images and shooting more personal work.”

The important thing Sykes says is that there is now a massive world market, thanks to the web, “especially for single iconic stand-alone images.”

The Life Library of Photography book Documentary Photography (1970) defines documentary photography under the title, “To See, to Record – to Comment,” as being a visual representation of a deeply felt moment, as rich in psychological and emotional meaning as a personal experience vividly recalled.

For Homer Sykes documentary photography is about working on a subject over a long period of time, getting to know and understand it. “I have always tried to add my personality to the images, to their content and the way in which they are taken, and certainly I want to be involved in how they are edited and put together” says Homer, adding, “all this takes time and commitment.”

“Revisiting my early work has actually allowed me to move forward,” Homer Sykes about On the Road Again, which he self-published in 2003.

To see what Homer means take a look at his most personal of projects, the self-published book On the Road Again. Here photographs taken on his Leica M3 and standard lens during his early travels in the United States in 1969 and 1971 are brought together with images taken in 1999 and 2001 using the same camera and lens which had come back out of the cupboard and been dusted off.

On the Road Again received good reviews, and raised Homer’s profile giving him back the confidence that had been sapped by the Network debacle.

“And of-course it created income. I wanted to start working on my own stories and shoot pictures for myself over long periods of time, as I had originally planned to do. I realised that I had to move on from the day to day, week by week photography that I had been doing to make a living to a more independent, creative position.”

“I also realised that there was an art photography world that I wanted to join. I hoped that my most recent books Hunting with Hounds and On the Road Again might help me into that area, and I think they have.”

“It is interesting that going back and revisiting my early work has actually allowed me to move forward.”

Speaking about his work from the 1970s being hung on the walls of the premier gallery of British art, Homer Sykes says, “the great thing is that photographers have finally been accepted by the art establishment, and this could just be the beginning of a renaissance in documentary photography values in Britain.”