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My British Archive, The Way We Were 1968-1983 by Homer Sykes

1 December 2018

On Saturday 17 August 1974 I decided that I would go to Southend-on-Sea in Essex and continue a project I was working on about British society, it was there that I found this middle-aged couple with their Austin Cambridge A50 and own deck chairs enjoying a sleepy afternoon in the sun.

I had been out of college for just a couple of years and was very busy making my living working on assignment for the Telegraph Weekend Magazine, New Society, Management Today and a host of other weekly publications, but always I wanted to shoot pictures for myself.

I have been documenting Britain for fifty years, it’s where I grew up, it’s the country I know and love. The Way We Were is not supposed to be a chronicle and comprehensive visual account of the social history of this period, but it is a personal view of ‘life’ that I encountered.

In 1968 I took my first serious photographs. I was a first year photography student at the London College of Printing and Graphic Arts – the LCP. I had moved to London, I was surprised and excited by what I saw. I became aware of a social reality and the political landscape, and I decided to document those aspects that interested me. It was the tail end of the swinging Sixties, the turbulent Seventies were awaiting. My photographs became narrative led as I began to understand the many contradictions that permeate British life; ‘the have and have nots’, the ‘top hat, cloth cap’ characteristics of society that were still very present at the time. I was intrigued by the way people inter-related or didn’t, what they wore - their dress code that marked them out as belonging to a certain class or aspiring to belong to an alternative tribe. I was a flâneur, I hung around on street corners, and made friends with strangers and tried to get myself invited back into their homes, clubs and work places to make more intimate photographs that revealed their lives.

I covered numerous weekend demonstrations, through out this period that pitted one political class, one section of society against another and the government. But always I attempted to get behind the more obvious news image; I was looking for other moments, spontaneous juxtapositions that gave depth and understanding to the demonstrator’s predicaments.

This was the midpoint in Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s 1966 Labour parties term in government. Over the next fifteen years the country was led by Edward Heath, Wilson once more and James Callaghan. In 1979 Margaret Thatcher, a Tory, became Britain’s first woman Prime Minister, she was to usher in another, entirely different era; Thatcherism.

90% of these photographs are taken on a Leica M2 or M3, Tri X film at 400 ASA developed and contacted by Grove Hardy. This was Bert Hardy and Gerry Grove’s darkroom in Waterloo. When Picture Post closed Bert became an advertising photographer and Gerry who printed for Bert at PP set up on their own. In nearly 50 years not a single contact sheet has faded, turned brown or yellow and the negs are exactly as they were when I collected them.

In early December Homer's new book My British Archive, The Way We Were 1968-1983 will be published by Dewi Lewis Publishing. Copies are available here. Please email Homer for details.

Homer Sykes is a professional magazine and documentary photographer. His principal commissions in Britain during the 1970's - 1980's, were for what used to be called the "weekend colour supplements" such as The Telegraph, The Sunday Times, The Observer, You and the Sunday Express magazines. He covered weekly news for Newsweek, Time, and the former Now! Magazine; covering conflicts in Israel, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland, as well as weekly news in the UK. Over the last fifty years he has shot numerous magazine portraits of the famous and not so famous - at home, at work and at play. He has always worked on personal photographic documentary projects along side commercial magazine assignments. In the 1970's he started on what has become an on going career project documenting traditional British folklore customs and annual events. In 1977 his first book was published Once a Year, Some Traditional British Customs (Gordon Fraser). In 2016 Dewi Lewis Publishing re-published this volume with 54 'new' images from his archive. He is the author, and co-author-photographer of nine books about Britain as well as Shanghai Odyssey (Dewi Lewis Publishing) and On the Road Again (Mansion Editions). The latter, an American project, was started in 1969, while he was at college. The photographic road trip was repeated in 1971, the work was then put away for thirty years, and in 1999 and 2001 he travelled once again by Greyhound bus criss-crossing America documenting the ‘down home’ idiosyncrasy of everyday middle America. In 2002 he set up a one-man band self-publishing concern Mansion Editions. To date Mansion Editions has published On the Road Again and Hunting with Hounds. More recently Cafe Royal Books have published over 20 'zines of his work.

As an award-winning photographer he has never been busier, managing his extensive archive of over twenty thousand content rich images, working on personal projects, and shooting new material.

Many private collectors and national collections own his work. For ten years he was a visiting lecturer at the London College of Communication (University of the Arts London) taking group and one-to-one tutorials with both MA and BA students studying Photojournalism and Documentary photography.

His vintage prints are represented by the James Hyman Gallery in London and by Francoise Morin at Les Douches La Galerie in Paris.

 

See more work by Homer Sykes

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