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England, Through The Eyes Of Tony Ray-Jones

When talking about British photographers one name is brought up enough, Tony Ray-Jones. He only lived to see his 31st birthday but in that time influenced so many artists that came after him.

Born in Wells, Somerset in 1941, to a physiotherapist mother and the British artist Raymond Ray-Jones (whose etchings are included in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum). At the age of eight, Ray-Jones lost his father, forcing the family to rely on financial support from the Artist's Orphan Fund. Ray-Jones studied graphic design at the London School of Printing where he first encountered the work of Bill Brandt, whose brother taught at the school.

In 1960, aged just 19, Ray-Jones won a two-year scholarship to Yale in the United States. Following a chance meeting with Alexey Brodovitch, he attended his classes at the Design Laboratory in New York alongside fellow students including Robert Frank, Irving Penn, and Garry Winogrand. He returned to England in 1966 and whilst supporting himself through photographic assignments, he travelled around the country in a VW camper van. His work was exhibited at the ICA, London in 1969 alongside of Dorothy Bohm, Don McCullin and Enzo Ragazzini.

Tony Ray-Jones

In 1971 he returned to the United States to take up a teaching post at the San Francisco Art Institute and began planning future projects before being diagnosed with Leukaemia in 1972. Due to the cost of care in the US, he flew home.

Three days after returning to England to be treated at the Royal Marsden Hospital, Tony Ray-Jones died, aged thirty-one.

The work of Tony Ray-Jones had a profound influence on photographer Martin Parr.

In this short film from the 2014 Tony Ray-Jones exhibition at the National Science and Media Museum, Parr discusses the English seaside photography of Ray-Jones, and his own study of the decline of the small town in the north of England.

Although his photographic career spanned just over a decade, Tony Ray-Jones produced a richly diverse body of work that celebrated the melodramatic nature of the human character- synthesizing a personalized mélange of compassion, curiosity and irony. As he explained to Creative Camera in 1968:

I have tried to show the sadness and the humor in a gentle madness that prevails in a people. The situations are sometimes ambiguous and unreal, and the juxtaposition of elements seemingly unrelated, and the people are real. This, I hope helps to create a feeling of fantasy. Photography can be a mirror and reflect life as it is, but I also think that perhaps it is possible to walk, like Alice, though a Looking-Glass, and find another kind of world with the camera.

The first monograph of his work, A Day Off (1974) was published posthumously and a retrospective of his work was held at the National Media Museum in 2004. In 2013, Media Space at the Science Museum, London displayed his work alongside that of Martin Parr in the touring exhibition Only in England.


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