‘ONLY IN ENGLAND’
A current exhibition in Canterbury at the Beaney Institute is Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr’s photographic exhibition of British life captured in the 1960’s.
I visited the exhibition at the weekend, which runs until September 2016. Thankfully, I have enough time to re-visit before the end of September. Unfortunately, unlike other previous showings of the exhibition at the Science Museum photography is not permitted at this exhibition.
Martin Parr, a renowned outspoken and eccentric British photographer selected previously unpublished photographs of Ray-Jones depicting a very British way of life in the 1960’s.
Ray-Jones family settled in Hampstead, London where he studied at the London School of Printing. During his studies he used a camera to help with his design work and in his third year of study took on a holiday to Algiers. He shot a series of photographs from a taxi. Those photographs’ along with others and application for a scholarship to join Yale University School of Art, Connecticut. He moved to America but returned to England shortly before he died at the age of 31 having been diagnosed with leukaemia.
During his studies he quickly realised that photography was not just a craft but a medium to express creativity and with New York City a short distance away this would prove to be his next step into Street Photography. His passion for photography was spurred on further when he attended a lecture by Alexey Brodovitch. Brodovitch was an influential leader of American design and art.
Ray-Jones took a year out of his two-year program to attend workshops by Brodovitch in New York City. The workshops were based at Richard Avendon’s studios where he met Joel Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand. Street photography was a new genre of art photography and New York City was full of opportunities with various parades taking place each weekend.
In order to blend into the crowds Ray-Jones ditched his rather cumbersome Rolleicord for a lightweight 35mm Leica. The modern day equivalent would be changing from a heavy weight DSLR to a digital compact. He completed his MFA in design. Ray-Jones visa expired and he returned to England. He and his wife Anna explored England in a VW Camper and documented the changing way of life, which he believed was disappearing and would soon be taken over by Americanism. So, the traditional Bank Holiday usually with pouring rain and bad weather failure to deter the English on holiday or the seaside picnic with sand in your sandwiches all appear humorous and mundane, routine even but captivating none the less. I heard numerous giggles and the odd smirk as I walked around the exhibition.
The best place to observe the great British public is at the beach where we truly relax. We forget our inhibitions and our culture beliefs blend into one and we are all there for one thing to enjoy the space. His experience of Street Photography in New York translated to beaches in England. Ray-Jones visited numerous beaches including Margate and Broadstairs on several occasions some of which form part of the exhibition.
I found myself gazing at one photograph ‘Trooping the Colour, 1967. On a personal level I could have been the Police Officer stood doing that job before my retirement on a post watching the crowds of spectators at an event in central London.
Copyright – Tony Ray-Jones
At first gland the photograph depicts a middle-aged man stood half-way up a ladder looking ahead and a Police Officer and what could be mistaken for rubbish piled up next to him but is a a young child asleep on the ground asleep.
I question is this child neglect. Did the youg girl fall asleep through boredom, tiredness and where are the parents?
I place myself as the Police Officer I know that this would not have been allowed to happen today the bureaucracy alone would not have allowed it to happen. Perhaps then there is also a sense of safety because of the police presence and the respect that a police officer had, which is sadly now somewhat lost.
This is a bygone age and era we will never return to as much as we all would like to go to bed and leave our front doors unlocked. Perhaps, just perhaps Ray-Jones caught a moment in time a generation that has long gone and despite his fears of Americanisation I think that we have adopted many American ideas, fast food and technology. Ray-Jones was an out spoken, forthright and rather curt individual to the point of arrogance and abrasive. He told the editor of Creative Magazine, “Your magazine’s shit, but I can see you’re trying. You just don’t know enough, so I am here to help you.” Instead of tossing him out on his ear, the editor agreed to look at his portfolio and eventually hired him as a consultant. (‘Sunday Salon » Tony Ray-Jones’, no date)
Parr acknowledges that Ray-Jones had an influence after meeting with him as a student. Parr’s selections are captivating and a slice of the 60’s that time warp you back to childhood in the blink of an eye.
‘Sunday Salon » Tony Ray-Jones’ (no date). Available at: http://www.utata.org/sundaysalon/tony-ray-jones/ (Accessed: 30 August 2016).