Homer Sykes is a well-known figure in British photography but his images have only made it across the Channel on rare occasions. After the exhibition at Maison Robert Doisneau, the Les Douches gallery is now showing his work captured during some testing times. It is an ode to the creativity of a society undergoing profound change, where humour and a love of the country’s sometimes trivial and often absurd culture prevailed.
Britain in the 1970s-1980s. Welcome to the Thatcher years, a time when the country was racked by doubt while reinventing itself through a social, cultural and political counter-revolution. The urge to upset the status quo could be clearly heard in the sounds of the emerging punk, new wave and glam rock cultures. Nonetheless, customs and traditions endured, with cricket matches attended by smart crowds of spectators in top hats and tails and painstakingly knotted silk scarves. With his unobtrusive camera, discretion was Homer Sykes’ watchword as he observed and recorded society’s transformation, applying the humanistic requirements and impulsions of street photography together with two rules: spontaneity and the search for an image that speaks for itself. His portrait of the Brick Lane café chef captures the man as he gazes down the lane, his hat cocked at an angle and his moustached smile and thick glasses turned to see what’s happening in the street. The stains on his apron match the familiar menu – a choice of meat or fish served with chips, and cheap at the price! Worlds apart from the tight collars, pursed lips and fretful expressions on the faces on the edge of the cricket pitch. The chef’s evident good humour is evocative of the expressions we are forced to image on the hidden faces of the children playing ghosts, veiled under a long bedsheet that floats behind them as they scamper through the suburban streets. All short trousers and long socks, these kids brought a bit of life to the quiet back streets of Wandsworth. Summer brings simple pleasures that get us through the crisis. A few minutes’ rest in deckchair is enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face, even if it is in the shade of a car in a quiet part of town rather under a palm tree. As long as you’ve got the book, the sandals and the vest, you don’t need sand, do you? From the drunken gambler, asleep on the ground after celebrating a big win at the Derby, to the New Romantics dancing the night away at the Blitz Club, the subjects never really seem to notice Sykes. As British society underwent transformation, he simply captured the moment, retaining all the energy of the everyday in his images and sometimes juxtaposing several different scenes in a single frame. A genuine slice of life.
So British by Homer Sykes
Through October 31st, 2015
Galerie Les Douches
5 Rue Legouvé