TONY RAY-JONES (1941-1972)

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STRONGMAN CONTEST, MABLETHORPE, 1967 by TONY RAY-JONES (1941-1972) - photograph for sale from Beetles & Huxley




DICKENS FESTIVAL, BROADSTAIRS, 1968 by TONY RAY-JONES (1941-1972) - photograph for sale from Beetles & Huxley





Tony Ray-Jones was born in 1941 in Wells, Somerset to the British painter and etcher Raymond Ray-Jones and his wife, Effie, a physiotherapist. Ray-Jones' father committed suicide when he was just eight months old, and his mother raised him in Hampstead, London.

Ray-Jones studied at the London School of Printing, where he concentrated on graphic design. It was here that he first came across the work of Bill Brandt, whose brother taught at the school. In 1960, Ray-Jones won a two-year scholarship to Yale University School of Art, after submitting a portfolio of photographs taken from the window of a taxi in Algiers. Arriving aged nineteen, he studied alongside Josef Albers, obtaining a MFA in graphic design. He spent four years in America, studying at the Design Laboratory in New York, directed by Alexey Brodovitch, and held in the studio of Richard Avedon. While in New York, Ray-Jones befriended the pioneering street photographer Joel Meyerowitz, a fellow student of Brodovitch. Together they photographed the people of the city, often photographing the same subjects, shooting in colour at a time when it was regarded as vulgar by the photographic establishment.

After his years living abroad in America, Ray-Jones returned to England with something of an outsiders view and a new confidence in his abilities as a photographer. Returning to black and white film, he also resolved to make an important statement about English society which, inspired by Bill Brandt's The English at Home , he wanted to publish as a book.
Ray-Jones travelled around England in a camper van, seeking out the eccentricities and rituals of the British. He documented seaside towns, beauty pageants, music festivals and other British institutions like Wimbledon and Crufts. His photographs are witty, wry, and often compositionally complex. My aim is to communicate something of the spirit and the mentality of the English, he stated of the project, their habits and their way of life, the ironies that exist in the way they do things, partly through their traditions and partly through the nature of their environment and their mentality. For me there is something very special about the English way of life and I wish to record it from my particular point of view before it becomes Americanised and disappears.

In 1969, fifty-four of these images and sixteen portraits by Ray-Jones were exhibited at the exhibition The English Seen , at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, which also featured the works of Dorothy Bohm, Don McCullin and Enzo Ragazzini.

Ray-Jones returned to the United States in January 1971 to work as a teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute. By the end of that same year, Ray-Jones began to suffer from exhaustion. He flew to London on 10 March 1972 to receive treatment for leukaemia, but died just two days later, aged thirty-one. A Day Off: an English Journal , containing 120 of Ray-Jones' photographs was published posthumously in 1974.

Ray-Jones' archive has been housed at the National Media Museum in Bradford since 1993. It consists of 700 photographic prints, 1,700 negative sheets, 2,700 contact sheets, 10,000 colour transparencies and Ray-Jones' notebooks and correspondence. Ray Jones' distinctive vision and subjective approach to photography subsequently influenced a new generation of photographers emerging in Britain in the 1970s including Chris Steele-Perkins and Martin Parr.

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