CLOSE UP: James Sykes – Living in the End Times

Overcoming the substructure © James Sykes

Shutter Hub member James Sykes studied Documentary Photography in Newport back in the 1990s and has continued to make long form projects ever since. His work is rooted in social commentary, radical politics and a desire to challenge the medium and orthodox approaches.

James has been working on his project ‘Living in the End Times’ since 2016 when he was walking in the Lincolnshire Wolds and came across a fenced off area that seemed to encapsulate the borders and exclusionary thinking he saw in Brexit and levels of rising nationalism.Then reading Zizek’s work ‘Living in the End Times’ James was deeply affected, it seemed to articulate many things he’d been grappling with personally and politically.

The project has continued to develop openly, without an end in sight, though James admits he’s found it exhausting carrying it around with him. The present situation with COVID-19 seemed to create the perfect, if tragic, ground for the work, and hopefully helps draw a line under the current direction of the project, and turn a corner towards something more hopeful for us all.


I lie and thats the truth © James Sykes

In this series I’m exploring the now. A pervasive feeling that whether it’s ecological collapse, the rise of the far-right, Trump and Brexit or the Coronavirus, we are Living in the End Times.

These photographs aim to describe an all encompassing dread for the future, complex systems, interconnectedness and a lack of control or capacity to change things.

A kind of anti-Instagram aesthetic of interrelated photographs across a long series more akin to a photobook. A conscious return to the photoessay including images that are ambiguous and (hopefully) challenging. A desire to tell a story that is happening off camera and over millennia, both past and future. The long view of the now, a break in the deluge of contextless images.

The titles play a major part. I’ve been collecting poems, phrases and statements for months, sometimes having the words before making the photographs. The text and images flow into each other, amplifying the narrative and creating the project’s feel.

Some of the photographs have poems or quotes as titles, but I want the photographs to be unsettling and ambiguous just like the zeitgeist.

Adventures in the anthropocene © James Sykes

Elements relations © James Sykes

The future casts its shadow © James Sykes

The inherent limitations of the human condition part one © James Sykes

Civilised life, you know, is based on a huge number of illusions in which we all collaborate willingly. The trouble is we forget after a while that they are illusions and we are deeply shocked when reality is torn down around us.
J.G. Ballard

The activation of a memory in a moment of crisis © James Sykes

A disruption in logic © James Sykes

BAE Systems © James Sykes

A quiet, unremarkable morning. It was the crushing banality that really struck me; the stark contrast between this location and the places BAE Systems’ products are deployed. The difference between here and the Yemen was perhaps unimaginable though a macabre twinning had occurred. I got back in the car and drove away, changed by the experience.


Violence as effect of material inequality © James Sykes

Barbarism © James Sykes

Every civilisation that disavows its barbarian potential has already capitulated to barbarism.
Slavoj Zizek

Homecoming © James Sykes

We would rather be ruined than changed
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.
The age of anxiety – WH Auden

Everything flows nothing stands still © James Sykes

Memento mori © James Sykes

Pour away that youth
That overflows the heart
Into hair and mouth;
Take the grave’s part,
Tell the bone’s truth.
Throw away that youth
That jewel in the head
That bronze in the breath;
Walk with the dead
For fear of death.
Phillip Larkin.

We sell skin © James Sykes

To see the world in a grain of sand © James Sykes

To see a world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour
William Blake

No salvation © James Sykes

The study of complex systems © James Sykes

Isolation © James Sykes

A map of the world © James Sykes

A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.
Oscar Wilde

This is not an exit © James Sykes


See James’ Shutter Hub portfolio here, and visit his website here.



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