Homer SykesI was at the London College of Printing from 1968-71 and during my second year I came across the work of Sir Benjamin Stone. He was a Birmingham businessman at the turn of the century, and a Member of Parliament. However his great passion was photography. He had made a remarkable study of traditional English festivals, ceremonies and customs as a hobby.
Once a Year
Some Traditional British Customs
I thought it would be interesting to re-photograph some of these customs and others I researched seventy years later, but not in a static way with a large format camera as he had, but in my own style, that I hoped would be a fusion of the American street photography genre that I loved, and had seen in MOMA in New York - Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, Burk Uzzle, Robert Frank, and Bruce Davidson, (because of the way their images appear spontaneous, accidental and stylish) and that of the humanitarian reportage and documentary photography of the great Magnum photographers.
The project lasted seven years, I travelled all over the country to take these photographs and covered about one hundred traditional events, that for the most part took place once a year. I tended to avoid folk club revival country customs, and those events that seemed to me, to be more to do with town hall tourism than local history. As a young documentary photographer I was interested in the contemporaneity of the participants, the coexistence of ancient and modern, and ofcourse of the documentary value of what I was doing.
The book Once A Year, some traditional British customs was published by Gordon Fraser in 1977. In England this was one of the first books of documentary photography ever to be published by a young photographer. Thirty years later this work was rediscovered by the curator Val Williams, and was exhibited at Tate Britain in their first ever major photographic show, "How We Are: Photographing Britain", during the spring and summer of 2007.
Homer Sykes (September 2007)