Homer Sykes Interview for Photography on a Postcard

Homer Sykes is best known for his witty and exploratory photographs of Britain and British culture. Impressed by the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Benjamin Stone and Bruce Davidson, Homer's work for outlets such as Sunday Times, Observer and Time has always been creative and poetically composed, leading him on to more personal and artistic projects. With each component placed brilliantly to create satirical, humorous, moving or awe inspiring scenes that present a commentary about society. Starting out in the 60's, and after numerous solo shows in the UK and abroad, Homer has been meticulously telling stories through his lens for nigh on half a century, so we have been very lucky and honoured to have the chance to speak with him and find out more about such a legendary photographer. 

RT: What can documentary photography do that written journalism or documentary films can’t? How is it different? Why is it important?

HS: Well documentary photography can speak to you in your own language, be it English, French or Chinese. Of course some understanding of the subject and culture can be important too. So captions may help. You can pull it off a shelf in book form and read at your leisure, check it out on a computer, or turn over a page and another in your newspaper or magazine; and if you want, throw it way or save it for ever. No hassle. Like any art form, the more you look the deeper your understanding.  As has been said many times, ‘… a picture can be worth a thousand words.’ These are the reasons why it is important.

RT: From music scenes such as punk and new wave to British Folklore you have extensively explored and documented various aspects of modern British life and what the essence of Britishness is. What is it about Britain you wish to say with your photography? What do you think you've said? and why do you enjoy photographing it?

HS: I came to London aged 18yrs; I had been at boarding school from the age of seven and had a pretty typical middle class suburban family life. Until then. On my own for the first time I discovered that life was full of stuff I knew nothing about. I was just very focused and wanted to know more and understand how other people lived. I didn’t see why I had to travel the world to discover stuff and make photographs, when just down the road, really interesting British life was going on and almost nobody was documenting it. The essence of Britishness for me then, and to a lesser degree now was about the, ‘have and have not’s’, the ‘top hat cloth cap’ mentality, those and many other visual contradictions that branded Britain.

British society I found fascinating and still do. I have always tried to document aspects of Britishness that have not been extensively photographed and show life as it really is. I try to do that truthfully, and with respect for my subjects, but sometimes of course with humour too. Do I enjoy doing all this still? Yes, it’s sort of an obsession.

RT: Do you have pre-existing ideas that you would like to explore before setting out with your camera or do the photographs tell their own story? In other words, what is your creative process with documentary photography?

HS: I always go out to shoot a set of pictures with an idea in my mind. This could have arisen from a news item I heard or something I read about. Perhaps something discussed on the radio. If it interested me, I would just go and have a look for myself. So of course I have an idea of what I am looking for, before I start out and what I want to say.  But once there and working, my mind is open to what ever I see, that I feel voices the story I want to tell. I tend to look for, what I call the ‘other picture’, those less obvious spontaneous juxtapositions that give depth and understanding. Of course I am a professional, so I shoot around a subject, I cover the various options and I make an edit carefully when I get home.  I believe in ‘content’, which is one of documentary photography’s great strengths.

RT: Your work has become so legendary and is so vast, photographs such as ‘Striptease tent at Pinner annual fair, 1971’ have become iconic and representative of the best of British photography worldwide, but for you which particular project stands out and why?

HS: Well, in 50 years of documenting Britain, my very first photographs are from 1967, but professionally from 1968. In that period I have covered all sorts, but I have always had a project or two on the go while making a living as a magazine editorial photographer. Big projects have evolved sometimes quite slowly, and over many years.  The picture of the ‘Striptease Tent at Pinner Annual Fair, 1971’, is from my documentary work on traditional British annual events, Once a Year, Some Traditional British Customs, was published in 2016 by Dewi Lewis. That body of work, that project, has to be what I am most well known for producing. However I was shooting another project at the same time, which I started while at college in 1968 on British society and finished in the very early 1980s, when the political landscape and society changed quite considerably. If all goes according to plan it will be published next year.

RT: How has the world of photojournalism been affected by the Internet age since you started in the 70’s?

HS: The world is just different now. Rolling news and instant photojournalism often go hand in hand.  Everything today is ‘now’ and ‘me’ and reported, I sometimes feel at an alarming speed. Often with little research and understanding. Almost everyone is a ‘citizen journalist’ with a photographic devise. But not me. I still use a camera. I compose, consider the ‘content’, and think about how the graphics work within the frame. I ask myself, does it make visual sense? I take my time and then edit carefully. I have never considered myself a photojournalist.

RT: Can you talk us through your photo postcards?

HS: The Widows Son, Hot Cross Bun Ceremony, party food.

It’s the Widows Son pub in London’s east end, their annual Good Friday Hot Cross Bun Ceremony. Party pub food is laid out for their customers.

The Widows Son, Hot Cross Bun Ceremony, party food. ©Homer Sykes My British Archive

The Widows Son, Hot Cross Bun Ceremony, party food.

©Homer Sykes My British Archive

Summer rain Whitstable Kent

A group of parents, with family friends have gathered to listen to their children playing in a steel band on the beach. And guess what, its starts to rain, but they are all well prepared.

Summer rain Whitstable Kent © Homer Sykes My British Archive

Summer rain Whitstable Kent

© Homer Sykes My British Archive

English sunrise motif, fish and chip café Southend on Sea.

Set against a the English sunrise motif, I like the older couple, their quiet contentment with their life and dinner in this traditional fish and chip café.

English sunrise motif, fish and chip café Southend on Sea © Homer Sykes My British Archive

English sunrise motif, fish and chip café Southend on Sea

© Homer Sykes My British Archive

Red shoes at the Cartier International Polo Windsor Great Park.

I have always been grateful as a male that I have never had to worry that my feet might hurt, and if I am wearing the right stylish shoes.  In this case red kitten heels, that go perfectly and are beautifully colour coordinated by this anonymous young woman in a strapless white and red floral patterned summer dress,  and by chance with the seating too.

Red shoes at the Cartier International Polo Windsor Great Park. © Homer Sykes My British Archive

Red shoes at the Cartier International Polo Windsor Great Park.

© Homer Sykes My British Archive

RT: What made you want to get involved with Photography on a Postcard?

HS: I ran into a photographer friend, who has a Glasweeeeegian accent. He scares dogs; they growl at him and bare their teeth. He wears a grin and a pork pie hat, and has the cheek with a camera, of I don’t know what. He makes great photographs of life on London streets, that sometimes are paved in gold and green.  With a slap on the back and a blast of light, he said, “Awright Homer ye ought tae git heavy goin in this stoatin project we wull a' become famous. Tis fur a guid cause.” For the good cause, he is so right.

For the chance to exhibit next to Homer Sykes as well as Martin Parr, Dougie Wallace and many more, go to http://bit.ly/2r0MUE4

 


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Rosa Torr has a BA in Politics and Philosophy from University College Dublin, though she herself is from London. Her place of interest is political theory and in particular Gender Studies. Rosa has written for numerous online publications and the University Observer. She is also a theatre maker and is currently co-artistic director of BUMP&GRIND Theatre Company. The show she co-wrote BUMP will be on at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer.  

Jenny Lewis for Photography on a Postcard

Jenny Lewis 'Nicola and Jemima'

Jenny Lewis

'Nicola and Jemima'

Jenny Lewis was born in Essex but has lived and worked in Hackney for 20 years. As an editorial photographer she has made a name for herself working for some of the leading magazines and publishers. Her work as an artist centres a lot around the wonderful people of Hacnkey and East London and Jenny has been vocal on the issue of gentrification in these areas for many years. She also takes inspiration from other creatives and has photographed the likes of our other Photo Postcard Artist Martin Parr as well as such names as Peter Blake and David Walliams. 

Her photo postcard comes from her One Day Young project which captures mothers within the first 24 hours with their babies. The photographs are a tender reminder of the epic possibilities of the human body and in particular the female one. In her own words; 'It’s really quite simple — I wanted to tell a story about the strength and resilience of women post-childbirth that I feel goes largely unacknowledged in today’s world. To reassure women that childbirth is ok; yes it’s painful but it is a positive pain, one that has purpose and is just part of the journey, a rite of passage into motherhood. To make visible other emotions that are far more powerful: the joy, the overwhelming love and the triumphant victory every new mother feels. In my mind this is the supportive message we should be passing on to future generations rather than paralysing them with fear.'

In the first of her four photo postcards (the other three to be revealed soon) she depicts mother Nicola with her new born Jemima. The composition alludes to traditional historic and religious depictions of the mother holding their child. Dressed in a blue robe similar to that of Mary's, Nicola looks down at the miracle she has just created. However, different from the more traditional depictions, this mother and child share a moment of genuine intimacy. The soft, what looks like morning, light illuminates them symbolic of a new beginning, the first light of the rest of their lives together. These pieces cause us to think about our own mothers, how we were once that baby, unaware of the lifetime of unconditional love we were about to receive. This moment is so unaffected by the blood and violence played out across the mother's body less than 24 hours earlier, as though a mother's love really can cure all pain, even their own. Amazing.

We are so happy Jenny Lewis will be exhibiting with us in October. Her postcard pieces are absolutely beautiful and we can't wait for you all to see them in real life. To find out more or for the chance to have your work alongside Jenny's go to http://bit.ly/2r0MUE4

 

Liz Collins Interview for Photography on a Postcard

Valerie Kaufman - Flaire 2016 Liz Collins 

Valerie Kaufman - Flaire 2016

Liz Collins 

It is an honour to have renowned fashion photographer Liz Collins as a contributing artist to our Photography on a Postcard project. Liz began her career as a photographer in the early 90s, working for Dazed and Confused and The Face. Since then Liz has enjoyed a multifaceted career in the fashion industry, changing the game for female photographers and carving out a niche in the magazine world with her thrilling and indulgent images. She is a regular contributor to Vogue, LOVE, The Gentlewoman and Fantastic Man to name but a few and is now considered one of the most established artists within her field.

CG: What is a successful shoot dependant upon and why? What is it like to be on a shoot with you; how do you like to work when on set?

LC: Atmosphere is everything on a shoot. I try to make sure everyone has a good experience and that we have fun. The energy translates into the work. I’m pretty hands on on set, I move about a lot, adjusting clothes, hair and directing people. Although sometimes the best picture comes from someone just being themselves.

CG: Where do you draw your inspirations for a shoot from and how do you develop your ideas from thought into fruition?

LC: References from books or films. I draw a lot from teenage expression, a familiar action or emotion. I used to sketch out each picture, now I just make notes to refer to on set. 

CG: And tell us one of your favourite or most memorable shoots and why?

LC: Photographing Lauren Hutton in a Malibu beach house. She’s a huge inspiration to me, her looks, her life and travel are just the coolest. Lauren told stories all day about her childhood, her career and of her riding motorbikes. She was open and kind. She complimented me to the point of tears when she left. Lauren is a inspirational and generous soul.

CG: How has the fashion/magazine industry changed since you first encountered it in the 90s?

LC: It’s gotten much quicker. Stories and now published within a month, where are we used to wait around 3 months to see work on the newsstand. There are more collections now too (4 a year), so there’s more variety in the clothes we get to photograph. The financial restrictions that the entire business world are experiencing are, of course, reflected in the publishing world. Essential changes are happening in the UK magazine industry, with big changes at British Vogue (Edward Enninful and Venetia Scott taking over), which will be brilliant to watch develop.

CG: What advice would you give to photographers trying to make a name for themselves in the industry?

LC: Find something unique in your work that makes you stand out from the rest.

CG: What is it about this particular project that made you want to be involved?

LC: I have had close friends affected by and successfully treated of Hepatitis C. It’s so incredible that we will see the end of this monstrous disease during our life time. I didn’t hesitate to help.

To have your work exhibited next to Liz Collin's at our upcoming exhibition go to http://bit.ly/2r0MUE4.

 


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About the writer

Claudia has written for various publications including GQ and LOVE magazine. She graduated from the University of Leeds in 2014 with a 2:1 Geography and has since gone on to pursue a career in fashion, and is a full time model with Storm London. A keen writer and fashion enthusiast; her secret project 'ClaudRobe' will be launching later this Summer.

Martin Parr for Photography on a Postcard

“Find the extraordinary in the ordinary”- Martin Parr

  Fortaleza, Brazil, 2008 From the series 'Autoportrait' © Martin Parr Collection / Magnum Photos  

 

Fortaleza, Brazil, 2008

From the series 'Autoportrait'

© Martin Parr Collection / Magnum Photos

 

Martin Parr is arguably one of the best and most important photographers of all time. His documentary photography and photojournalism takes anthropological and satirical looks into aspects of modern life, in particular documenting the social classes of England. His major projects have been The Last Resort (1983–85), The Cost of Living (1987–89), Small World (1987–94) and Common Sense (1995–99).

Martin is obsessive in his approach, and has taken thousands of photographs over his career.  He thinks of his work in terms of projects, stages and sets rather than individual pictures. When asked what his favourite photograph is in an interview, he responded that it was a ridiculous question because photographs individually did not finish their complete story, they exist within projects. Perhaps this method lends itself to how saturated with narrative Martin's photographs are. Some photojournalists look for 'that' moment, where things lock into place and present an idea. But Martin's work always seems to be suggestive of an understanding of the zeitgeist, capturing an era or a period of time and it's ascension into new forms of modern life. 

New Brighton, England, UK From the series 'The Last Resort', 1983-85 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

New Brighton, England, UK

From the series 'The Last Resort', 1983-85

© Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

In his series The Last Resort (1983-85), Martin photographs summer time in New Brighton, a seaside resort in Wallasey, England. There is an unsettling balance struck in this series in particular that Martin has become known for. Both amusing and sad, comedy and tragedy, known and estranged, these photos represent a form of 'Britishness' that is hard to describe in words. Britain's coastlines are lined with beaches, arcades and chip shops. They sit at the furthest points from the British capital, and face into the European unknown, almost taking on the feeling of liminal spaces, like sunny voids. Predominantly working class, these places become the communal sphere at summer time and once you know it, you find there is tremendous heart in these little places like New Brighton.

Martin himself was born in Epsom, studied in Manchester Polytechnic and moved to Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, so his connection and understanding of working class Britishness is a personal one. It is because of this that his works are so humorous, he, like us, knows these characters and the nostalgic familiarity tickles us. The narratives may include a chip shop filled with hungry kids or the moody ice cream lady. These characters have played a part in our lives and they reemerge in our memory when we looks at Martin's photographs. For this reason the existentialism that produces the satire of the piece is balanced with heart and meaning that produces the humour.

New Brighton, England, UK From the series 'The Last Resort', 1983-85 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

New Brighton, England, UK

From the series 'The Last Resort', 1983-85

© Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

Martin says that he likes to "find the extraordinary in the ordinary"- it may be a freak moment that creates poetry in the compositions of mundane scenes, or a sense of recognition for the characters that make up the stories of our own lives. Martin's work achieves an affection for British working class life; that even though they are amongst the most forgotten in the British classist society, there is a lot of heart and a sense of just 'getting on with it', doing whatever you can to have a good time and enjoy family. It's a celebration in a way of the human spirit and it's abilities to overcome oppressive structures. As he says “With photography, I like to create fiction out of reality. I try and do this by taking society’s natural prejudice and giving this a twist.”. When I see his photographs I think of my holidays in a caravan with my grandparents to Skegness or Butlins as a little kid, I think about how magical those holidays were and I recognise the same spirit, perhaps that is too difficult to put into words, but Parr manages to express it in his photographs. If aliens came to earth and asked 'what is England?', the closest we could get to an accurate response would be to show them Martin Parr's photography. 

Martin's work also delves beyond England and into a broader context that goes world wide, continuously researching disparity of wealth and working class life Martin has documented life in America, Italy, Switzerland, Ukraine and Turkey, to name a few. Since 1994, Parr has been a member of Magnum Photos.  He has had around 40 solo photobooks published, and has featured in around 80 exhibitions worldwide – including the international touring exhibition ParrWorld, and a retrospective at the Barbican Arts Centre, London, in 2002.

To say that we are exited to have Martin Parr on board with Photography on a Postcard is an understatement. Where as a lot of photographers search for the interesting moments or ideas, Martin looks for meaning, capturing the rhythm, magic and feel of life not just the ideas of the artist. And you could be a part of an exhibition alongside him. If you are a photographer, in whatever genre and would like the chance to be judged to exhibit alongside names such as Martin Parr, Simon Norfolk, Liz Collins and Dougie Wallace then check out our call for submissions here http://bit.ly/2r0MUE4


About the writer

Rosa Torr has a BA in Politics and Philosophy from University College Dublin, though she herself is from London. Her place of interest is political theory and in particular Gender Studies. Rosa has written for numerous online publications and the University Observer. She is also a theatre maker and is currently co-artistic director of BUMP&GRIND Theatre Company. The show she co-wrote BUMP will be on at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer.  

Harland Miller Postcard Lottery at Art Car Boot Fair

Art Car Boot Fair is all about originals this year and Art Car Boot Fair thought we’d have some fun with the theme. We’ve teamed up with Harland Miller to create a limited edition run of 50 postcard sized prints of Hates Outta Date with a hidden hand finished print worth £4000 mixed into the editions. The prints will be available by buying a ticket and the winner will be revealed once all the tickets have gone.

‘I donate to Art on a Postcard each year. They are raising money to eliminate hepatitis C.  I’m more than happy to do this as each year they set out their targets, whether it’s getting Westminster or the World Health Assembly to sign up to their program of elimination, each year they let me know they’ve succeeded. I know the money I help them raise is effective in helping them achieve their goals’ Harland Miller

Tickets will only be available at the Art Car Boot Fair, July 9 2017, The Workshop, Lambeth High Street, SE1 7AG

Harland Miler - Hates Outta Date!

Harland Miler - Hates Outta Date!