The first thing you notice about Hunting with Hounds is the beauty of its reproduction: rich black and white images exquisitely printed as duotones from Homer Sykes’ original darkroom prints. The effect is to allow the photographs to exist both as current document and rich nostalgia.
Sykes maps out his territory straight away: “I love the English countryside” [and] “hunting is one of man’s most natural instincts” he begins in this, his latest book. Inside, Sykes spans nine separate hunting activities: from hare-coursing and fox-hunting, to stag and mink-hunting. Sykes provides the reader with a gentle and approving look at the people and the friendships that underpin these differing hunt communities. We meet the foot soldiers of this now threatened pastime – professional huntsmen and their staff – as well as the members, paying riders, landowners, and spectators who define this community and whose patronage has bankrolled it through the ages.
Through Sykes’ friendly lens we see them warming at the meet before the hunt, follow on foot, even forge a river in hot pursuit of their quarry, hounds in tow. But mostly we see the supporting cast – those who come to watch. The women we will see again at the annual ball bedecked in mink, the men having a “civilised” drink out of a car boot bar, well turned out in camel hair coats or Barbours. Homer Sykes’ celebrates that part of England many see disappearing fast; a rural scene and way of life lost to dual-carriageways, village bypasses and superstores. You don’t have to be pro-hunting to recognise that.