The Lost Cat Decade


By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of Garry Sykes.

For a great deal of a year and half of his life, Garry Sykes worked on his first original feature film, Drunken Butterflies. Following the completion of the colossal project, the filmmaker and photographer took a breather to work on something less consumptive. Sykes decided to piece together some stray photographs of lost-cat posters he’d been passively compiling.

Sykes sifted through the copies of fluffy tabbies, prints of spotted Bengals, and sketches of black kittens. A striking realization occurred when Sykes noted the dates of their documentation: he’d been photographing lost-cat posters for a decade.

Originally, Sykes started the project in case he came across an animal he could report. While he hasn’t found any, he says he still keeps an eye out and admits that the “photos are more about unanswered questions than resolution.”

Sykes documented lost-cat posters around London, Newcastle, New York, and Venice. However, he did not notice much variation from place to place. While “wealthier areas tend to offer rewards and you see more pure-breds,” overall, “the feelings of loss and hope you see in every poster are the same wherever they are.”

The most interesting posters, Sykes states, are not just the ones that make you sad, but also make you to smile. Robust characteristics can be depicted in the writing, be it “the rowdy cat that escaped on its way to the vet’s,” or the found “’friendly but noisy’ stray tom” who ended up being a very “yowly, belligerent cat who just won’t shut up, to the point where the people it was pestering were forced to put up posters.”

Photo courtesy of Garry Sykes.

At the moment, Sykes doesn’t own a cat. Nevertheless, he says that he used the animal as a recurring motif in Drunken Butterflies, like referring to the characters as cats or kittens, or casting his sister’s pet in a party scene.

“He became everyone’s best friend for the day, on and off camera,” recalls Sykes. “A cat is a great presence to have on set, I’d highly recommend it to all filmmakers.”

Through all the loss and loneliness seen in his photograph series, Sykes sees universal warmth exhibited by such postings.

“The posters [show] people putting out these notices so publicly, really asking everyone what has happened to their pet shows there’s heart there after all, and that can be something that transcends the class or cultural variations,” he reasons. “People everywhere love their pets.”