isIt was in 1986 and I had been on the road with Sigue Sigue Sputnik for a few days. They had played a concert in Leeds the night before and we had just arrived at a small bed and breakfast in Newcastle upon Tyne. I left my things in my room and went down to the bar where I spoke to the owner. I was sort of hanging out when two members of the group, Neal X and Yana YaYa, came over to order some drinks. The landlady hadn’t seen them at this point… and she hadn’t seen their hair. She was, say, shocked. I was there, so it made a photo.
This is how I always work. I watch, I wait… and I hope to see one of those magical moments. If you are patient, usually something will happen. It’s about being prepared and seeing clearly. I am not a photographer. You couldn’t configure an image like this even if you tried. If you had a team of people in there, a team, an art director, and a whole crowd of people, you would lose spontaneity. It’s the finger in the owner’s mouth that makes the picture – she’s looking at Neal X and his hair and his cowboy T-shirt, which was based on a design by Jim French. His expression is fantastic. She is not horrified; she smiles and thinks, “What’s going on here?”
The photo shows two completely different worlds coming together. Later that night the band performed a concert at Tiffany’s in Newcastle city center. It was part of their Love Missile F1-11 tour. I remember it was loud and noisy and it was pushed and pushed down in the front. But I had a job to do.
I never knew the group as a person. I’m not that kind of guy. I like to remain discreet and blend in with the crowd. I am a very ordinary middle class guy. I’ve toured a lot of bands in my career but, in truth, I’ve never listened to pop music… well, no 80s pop music. I was on the road so often that I never have it. had the time. I love music, but because of the work I missed all kinds of things. In fact, I was sent to do this photo by a women’s magazine, so the group probably all thought, “It won’t be a lot of cops, it’s not the New Musical Express.” But they were happy with the publicity I imagine.
I was always on the road in the 70s, 80s and 90s, at least three or four days a week. I’ve seen the mods and the rockers, the punks, the new romantics, all do their thing. But I didn’t really care what people did or how they dressed, or even what they said or felt. I was just interested in how they fit into the society I photographed them in.
I have traveled all over the UK for my job. As a photographer you can cross all kinds of social boundaries and see all aspects of society. I really like the country I live in – I believe in Britain a lot. And whether it’s hunters, politicians or rock bands, I always approach the work with exactly the same mindset: not taking center stage is much more interesting. to be a fly on the wall, to observe.
When I look at this image I can see the elements that are working. There are three people in it and they are off-center. Then you have the bar going down two-thirds to the right to the center of the frame. You have Neal’s white hair against the dark background. The yellow cooler is a little too bright; I could improve this by not having the flash on the camera but hey, that’s life.
A few years ago, I had an exhibition in Hull that included this image. Someone came up to me and said, “I love this photo, I went to this concert! The next day he returned with his ticket stub. My photography is all about serendipity and here is another one of those great little coincidences.
Homer Sykes Color Works: The 1980s and 90s is released by Dewi Lewis on June 21.
CV d’Homer Sykes
Née: Vancouver, Canada 1949 (British resident since 1952).
Qualified: Le London College of Printing and Graphic Arts.
Influences: “Bert Hardy, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, and my part-time lecturer at David Hurn College.
High point: “I was the first British photographer to have a personal exhibition at the Maison de la Photographie Robert Doisneau, Paris.
Low point: “Struggling with dyslexia – until I bought a computer and discovered the spell check feature. “
Superior council: “Application then inspiration, be curious. “