This new book from RRB Photobooks and the Martin Parr Foundation will mark the important contribution that Tony Ray-Jones (1941 – 1972) and his legacy, have made to British documentary photography.
The exhibition and book will focus on photographs taken between 1966 – 1969 as Ray-Jones, driven by curiosity, travelled across the country to document English social customs and what he saw as a disappearing way of life. This small but distinctive body of photographs was part of an evolutionary shift in British photography, placing artistic vision above commercial success. In this short period of time, Ray-Jones managed to establish an individual personal style. He constructed complex images against a uniquely English backdrop, where the spaces between the components of the image were as important as the main subject matter itself.
‘I have tried to show the sadness and humour in a gentle madness that prevails in people. The situations are sometimes ambiguous and unreal, and the juxtapositions of elements seemingly unrelated, and yet 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, through the looking glass, and find another kind of world with the camera.’
Ray-Jones’ skills were gleaned from a generation of street photographers he encountered whilst living in New York in the mid-1960s. These photographers included Garry Winogrand, Joel Meyerowitz and others associated with the circle of legendary Harpers Bazaar art director Alexey Brodovitch. Their pictures defined the era as they used the street as a framework. Ray-Jones applied this new way of seeing to his native England and photographed his observations as they had never been seen before.
In 2012, Martin Parr alongside curator Greg Hobson, revisited Ray-Jones' contact sheets from this period and found previously unseen images. These new discoveries will be exhibited and published alongside iconic early images, including vintage prints from the Martin Parr Foundation collection.
Tony Ray-Jones (1941 – 1971) was born in Wells, Somerset and studied graphic design at the London School of Printing. In 1960, aged just 19, Ray-Jones won a two-year scholarship to Yale in the Untied 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 that of Dorothy Bohm, Don McCullin and Enzo Ragazzini. 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 Leukemia in 1972. He returned to the UK for treatment and died aged just 31. 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.
A french language edition of this title is published by Maison CF, Paris
“Tony Ray -Jones was one of my initial inspirations as a photographer. His imagery showed me what was possible in shooting my own country. In 2012 I went through his contact sheets and found previously unseen images. These all contributed to a show the Media Space in 2013 where his iconic early images were shown alongside these new discoveries.
There has not been a book of Tony Ray-Jones's work in print for many years, so this new publication, from Martin Parr Foundation and RRB Photobooks will correct this oversight and the accompanying show will give us a chance to enjoy this important photographer's immense contribution to British documentary photography.”