06
Oct
13

Exhibition: ‘Another Country: Vintage Photographs of British Life by Tony Ray-Jones’ at James Hyman, London

Exhibition dates: 11th September – 11th October 2013

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What a loss to the world when this photographer died aged just thirty. His eye was magnificent. He seems to have instinctively known how to capture the quintessential British at work, rest and play in all that societies class-ridden glory – the fag hanging out of the mouth in Lady’s Day (c. 1967) combining beautifully with the aura of the patterned dresses; the isolation of the figures and their stop-frame movement in Day at the Races (c. 1967), a wonderfully balanced composition caught in the moment; and the orchestral ensemble that is the cast of Bacup, Lancashire, 1968 (1968), each figure playing its part in the overall tension of the picture plane: the brothers at right in matching duffle coats, the boy walking forward down the incline with head thrown sideways balanced at rear by another boy with hands in pockets tossing his head into the wind. Magical.

Just to see this image, to visualise it and have the camera ready to capture its “nature”, its undeniable presence for that one split second, then to develop and find this image on a proof sheet, what joy this would have been for the artist. Equally illustrious is the feeling of Bournemouth, 1969 (1969) with the nuanced use of shadow and light, the occlusion of the figure behind the screen with the turn of the head, and the placement of the two white tea cups at right. Ray-Jones wasn’t afraid to place figures in the foreground of his compositions either as can be seen in Brighton Beach, 1967 (1967) to great effect, framing the mise en scène behind.

These photographs take me way back to my childhood in the 1960s in England, going to Butlin’s Clacton-on-Sea and Bournemouth for our family holidays. Even the name says it all: Clacton “on sea” as though they have to remind people visiting that they are actually at the sea. The photographs perfectly capture the mood of the country in this utilitarian era where holidays at a seaside resort were often dour affairs, punctuated by stony beaches, bad weather and regulated activities. The freedom of the 1970s had yet to arrive and us kids went whether we liked it or not: Mablethorpe, 1967 (1967) perfectly epitomises such an environment, with the long days of pleasure/torture stretching off into the distance much as the sea wall in Ray-Jones’ photo.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to James Hyman for allowing me to publish these magnificent photographs. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Lady's Day' c. 1967

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972)
Lady’s Day
c. 1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
12 x 20 cms (5 x 8 inches)

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Day at the Races' c. 1967

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972)
Day at the Races
c. 1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
13 x 20 cms (5 x 8 inches)

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'A Day at Richmond Park' c. 1967

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972)
A Day at Richmond Park
c. 1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
17.5 x 25.6 cms (7 x 10 inches)

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Chatham May Queen, 1968' 1968

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972)
Chatham May Queen, 1968
1968
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
17.5 x 26.2 cms (7 x 10 inches)

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Bacup, Lancashire, 1968' 1968

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972)
Bacup, Lancashire, 1968
1968
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
17.5 x 26.5 cms (7 x 10 inches)

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“James Hyman is delighted to stage an exhibition of rare, vintage photographs by Tony Ray-Jones to coincide with the opening exhibition of the Science Museum Media Space, Only in England, Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr, in September 2013.

Tony Ray-Jones had a short life. He died in 1972 aged just thirty. But the pictures that he left behind are some of the most powerful British photographs of the twentieth century. His work of the late 1960s and early 1970s documents English culture and identity and brilliantly captures this period in English public life. Inspired by what he learnt in America in the mid-1960s, from photographers such as Lee Friedlander and Joel Meyerowitz, Ray-Jones was keen to make ‘new’ photographs of English life, which did not read simply as documentary, but also as art objects. As he explained in Creative Camera in 1968: the spirit and the mentality of the English, their habits, and the way they do things, partly through tradition and the nature of their environment and mentality.”

The acclaim that Ray-Jones received after his death, especially from other photographers, testifies to the respect of his elders and his contemporaries. Bill Brandt praised the “very pronounced style all of his own” and lamented that “his death, at such a young age, is a terrible loss to British photography.” Jacques Henri-Lartigue praised Tony Ray-Jones as a “fantaisiste”: “young, free and whimsical with, in addition, a very sound technique and a vision of fire that was full of humour, truth and a sense of poetry” and Paul Strand praised his “remarkable formal organisation” and declared: “I found the photographs of Tony Ray-Jones very outstanding. In them I find that rather rare concurrence when an artist clearly attaining mastery of his medium, also develops a remarkable way of looking at the life around him, with warmth and understanding.”

These tributes are to be found in the most important book of Tony Ray-Jones work, A Day Off. An English Journal, published in 1974. They are included in a beautiful essay in which Ainslie Ellis, one of the photographer’s earliest champions, addresses not only the photographs but also Ray-Jones’s photographic process. Ellis stresses that what mattered to Ray-Jones was not just taking the picture, but also the creative process of deciding which pictures on a contact strip to print, and then making a master-print, from which all subsequent prints would be matched. We are, therefore, delighted that this exhibition should include many of the pictures reproduced in this celebrated book and that it present exclusively vintage prints, which, in a number of identifiable cases, are the actual photographs that Tony Ray-Jones exhibited in his lifetime.

Often playful and sometimes despondent, what Ray-Jones produced was unlike anything which came before, and was the catalyst for a generation of New British Photographers.”

Press release from the James Hyman website

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Bournemouth, 1969' 1969

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972)
Bournemouth, 1969
1969
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
16 x 25 cms (6 x 10 inches)

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Brighton Beach, 1967' 1967

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972)
Brighton Beach, 1967
1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
17.5 x 26.5 cms (7 x 10 inches)

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Mablethorpe, 1967' 1967

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972)
Mablethorpe, 1967
1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
14 x 21 cms (6 x 8 inches)

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Waxworks, Eastbourne, 1968' 1968

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972)
Waxworks, Eastbourne, 1968
1968
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
14 x 21 cms (6 x 8 inches)

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Durham Miners' Gala' 1969

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972)
Durham Miners’ Gala
1969
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
14 x 22.5 cms (6 x 9 inches)

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Sunday Best' c. 1967

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972)
Sunday Best
c. 1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
30.5 x 20 cms (12 x 8 inches)

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Blackpool, 1968' 1968

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972)
Blackpool, 1968
1968
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
21 x 14.5 cms (8.25 x 5.70 ins)

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James Hyman Gallery
16 Savile Row
London W1S 3PL
Telephone 020 7494 3857

Opening hours:
By appointment

James Hyman Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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