Only In England – Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr

Within the Media Space at the Science Museum in London is a sensational exhibition of the works of two brilliant and influential British photographers, Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr are respectively two important British photographers and in this exhibition we see them both documenting the side of british social customs and eccentricities through Martin Parr’s first significant body of work ‘The Non-Conformists’ which was taken in the Hebden Bridge area in Yorkshire during the 1970’s. This fascinating folio of images gives a wonderful sense of place, of people and the diversity and is wonderfully atmospheric thanks to them being captured in black and white and printed wonderfully by Tom Groves. Parr had selected a great collection of Tony Ray-Jones images, the majority of which were unseen.

Tony Ray-Jones was born in Somerset and after studying at the London School of Printmaking he was was granted a scholarship to join Yale University School of Art on the basis of a selection of photographs he had taken in North Africa. It was noted from an early age of 19 that Jones was a talented photographer and by the mid early sixties was given assignments for publications. After his studies he went to the Design Lab, held by the art director Alexey Brodovitch who shared the Bauhaus belief that you needed to educate the whole individual by directing his or her attention to a variety of modern solutions in their graphic projects. Returning to Britain in late 1965 Tony Ray-Jones after a period of discontent at the lack of opportunities his work on ‘English at leisure’ began to form, taking advantage as much as possible before the impending encroachment of americanism’s disrupted and destroyed the quintessential British way of life. An element of his photographs that first attracted me to them was the humour, for example his image titled ‘Beauty Contest, Southport’ this wonderful juxtaposition of English gent with his tea amongst the beauty contestants is itself a fascinating look at a cross section of British Society while also being in touch with a British sense of humour.

Martin Parr, born in Surrey in 1952 studied photography at Manchester Polytechnic, while citing his grandfather, an amateur photographer as his inspiration and influence. After a beginning as a professional and teacher in photography in mid 70’s Parr was first acknowledged for his black and white photography documenting the north of England. Before moving towards colour in 1984 on a selection of images focusing on Brighton. He later became a member of Magnum Photos and produced a large number of photo books and exhibitions around the world. Early in his career he met Tony Ray-Jones, a meeting that led to Parr’s inspiration for ‘The Non-Conformists’ and a respect and influence that lasts to this day, something we see throughout the exhibition. Through his images we continually see the connection with Jones, the ability to capture significant elements of British life with passion, emotions and humour.

I found this exhibition to be an inspirational experience, I went from being aware of both these photographers to being able to confidently credit them with inspiring me to produce such emotive, thought provoking and captivating images that stand the test of time to that of the British people and our way of life. I also found the exerts of Tony Ray-Jones diary used throughout the exhibition a strong connection and insight to his process and understanding of himself and his subjects and something I have recreated with for myself through my notebook and my work station.

 

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