Thursday 30 April 2009

Profile: Tony Ray-Jones

Beachy Head Tripper Boat, 1967 - Image by Tony Ray-Jones

Around twenty years ago, i came across an image by a photographer whose work stood out from the page of the magazine. It was humorous and yet sad at the same time. The work was by a British photographer called Tony Ray-Jones. I have always loved photographers who realise the value of the subject that they work with. Other photographers like Peter Korniss photographed disappearing ways of life as modern life encroached into the old remote communities. Tony Ray-Jones did a similar thing but his subjects weren't living in a remote Hungarian village - they were living throughout Great Britain.

Tony Ray-Jones was born in Wells, Somerset, UK in 1941 and was the youngest son of a painter and etcher Raymond Ray-Jones who died when Tony was just eight months old. After the death of his father, Tony's mother took the family to Tonbridge in Kent, then onto Little Baddow (near Chelmsford, Essex) before settling in Hampstead, London. Tony's early education was a painful one - he hated the school he attended at Christ's Hospital at Horsham - but his studies later enabled him to enter the London school of printing. Initially he studied graphic design but later he would be awarded a scholarship to Yale university of art on the strength of his photography.

Ray-Jones was interested in the creative aspects of photography and went to the design lab held by the art director Alexey Brodovitch. Brodovitch high standards and no nonsense approach to photography helped the photographer develop his photography skills further. This was also matched with his introduction to the street photographers of New York of which several, including Joel Meyerowitz, became very influential in his later work. Many of the simple rules and lessons learned from these experienced photographers were jotted down in notebooks. Be more aggressive.' 'Be more involved.' 'Talk to people.''Stay with the subject.' 'Be patient.''Take simpler pictures.' 'Don't take boring pictures.''Get in closer.' This deep study of other photographers working plus the experience of assignments for a number of publications would help develop Ray-Jones work further. Many have compared Ray-Jones work to that of contemporary photographer Martin Parr. There are similarities in the style and subject matter, but Ray-Jones' images retain one element above Parr's image. Compassion. Martin Parr's images have always been very unsympathetic views of society with a detached cold feel to them. Tony Ray-Jones may have looked on amused but he never ridiculed.

In 1965, Tony Ray-Jones returned to Britain determined to use what he had learned in the U.S. His passion for photographing Britain during the 'swinging sixties' lay was due to the fact that Ray-Jones could see the spread of American culture was drowning out distinct elements of British cultural life. The photographs that he took reflect the start of a sense of loss of national identity - a way of life was coming to an end. In the 21st century, globalism is a phrase that is embraced to reflect the believe in core shared values and markets throughout the world but as history shows us, superpowers are the culturally dominant force. Britain had been that superpower for centuries but it was finally coming to an end, mainly due to the financial costs of world War II and the sudden demise of the British empire during the post war years. During the 1940's and 1950's, U.S music, Coca Cola and many other crazes had crossed over the Atlantic to Britain - just as they still do today. Tony Ray-Jones could see his country changing from an old empire based nation to a new modern nation, a nation no longer a superpower in the world. Britain was starting its journey towards becoming a modern, multicultural society. The old life was disappearing fast.

Alongside the documentary work, Tony Ray-Jones took portraits for magazines like the BBC's Radio Times and for the Sunday newspapers. The photographer remained in the UK , photographing all over the country, until 1970 when he decided to return to the USA to live and work. He took a job as a teacher at the San Francisco art institute but disliked the attitude of the students. In late 1971, Tony Ray-Jones started to suffer from exhaustion and it was in early 1972 that he found out he had leukemia. Medical costs in the USA were expensive so he returned to Britain for treatment. Sadly, on March 13th 1972, Tony Ray-Jones died at the young age of just 30 years old. His legacy is a photographic record of Britain starting to change into a modern nation. His images have style, wit and humour and are, rightly, compared to great work by photographers like Robert Doisneau and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Tony Ray-Jones captured the full character of the British as Doisneau and Cartier-Bresson had caught the French character. No other British photographer, including Don McCullin and his the Homecoming project, has ever come close to that achievement ,making the photography of Tony Ray-Jones a unique portrait of a Britain long gone.

All Images by Tony Ray-Jones

  • Top left - Tony Ray-Jones
  • Top right - A group of elderly people relax on the beach at Brighton, 1966
  • Middle left - Ballroom, Morecambe, Lancashire, 1968.
  • Bottom right - Opera fans relaxing at Glyndebourne, 1967


Wednesday 29 April 2009

Photo legal

Taking a photograph - The Sage, Gateshead, UK

A new podcast has been launched giving advice to UK photographers about their legal rights. The photo legal podcast is a bi-weekly broadcast that can be subscribed to using iTunes or the RSS feed. The podcasters, with the help of Everys Solicitors, aim to cover all aspects of law that affect photographers and visual artists including copyright and privacy issues.

To view the blog and subscribe to the podcast go to :-

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Three images

USAAF enthusiast at Thorpe Abbotts airfield, Norfolk, July 2007

This photograph was taken at the remarkable Thorpe Abbotts museum on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. I'd just arrived when this guy appeared with this lady (his wife i presume) whose job was to take photographs of him.

The images were to be recreations of old photographs and were all worked out to get the exact angles and viewpoints used in the originals USAAF wartime photographs -you can see her holding the old photos in her left hand.

I, being cheeky, decided to take some photographs of my own - me, creating an image of him attempting to recreate an image from another image.

Friday 24 April 2009

Broad appeal

Potter Heigham Broad, Norfolk, UK - July 2008

Finally. Yes, finally, i have started work on the portfolio section of the website. It's only taken four months for me to build the courage up to start on the biggest phase of the website reconstruction.

I keep on telling myself the delay was so that i could get the page design right but i think I'm just kidding myself - I'm actually put off by the sheer scale of the task. Besides, as websites go most people much prefer looking at a regularly updated photoblog than a portfolio that rarely changes from month to month. The online portfolio, however, works like the 'best of' album released by musicians. It keeps the best work out and on view - a sprat to catch a mackerel.

I'm rather pleased with the above photograph but it's been a tough one to get right. I scanned the negative about six months ago but couldn't produce a picture that i liked. Something just didn't seem to work - the image balance seemed all wrong. I tend to leave photographs that are like that and return to them later when i can evaluate them afresh. The process usually works and its surprising how quickly you can solve the problem. In the photograph above, the sky was dodged to tone down the clouds and the water was lightened too. The final finished photograph catches the quiet, almost old world slow pace of the broads.

The yachts parked along the side of the broad are getting ready to take down their masts. Potter Heigham has a very small stone bridge dating from around 1385 that needs to be navigated through to reach other areas of the Norfolk broads. A bridge pilot is provided for those who require help to traverse through the narrow space, but first boat skippers must make sure they can fit comfortably under the bridge. It's a tight squeeze!

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Casseni's mission

Small, battered Epimetheus before Saturn's A and F rings, and and smog-enshrouded Titan (5,150 km/3,200 mi wide) beyond. (NASA/JPL/SSI)

Yep... another post to do with space but what images these are! The above image isn't a still from a new science fiction film, even though a few of the images are reminiscent of the planetary introduction to Ridley Scott's excellent film 'Alien'.

The images were taken by NASA's Casseni spacecraft which has been tasked with taking images of Saturn, its ring system and moons. The pictures are remarkably beautiful and varied. Several images show the rings and moons in great detail whereas others have a more abstract arty look.

The collection of 25 impressive Saturn images can be found HERE.

Sunday 19 April 2009

On the Pad

Under cloudy skies above Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, space shuttle Atlantis begins to roll away from the Pad - October 2008

I've always had a soft spot for the Space Shuttle. I suppose it represents part of the fascination with space that kids growing up in the early 1980's got to see regularly on TV. The moon landings had been over a decade before, and so the space shuttle represented 'the final frontier' for my generation. Next year, however, the Shuttle program will finally draw to a close after nearly two decades of shuttle missions.

The NASA website has some terrific photography including a lot of behind the scenes imagery that really get across the immense amount of effort put into every launch. As of last Friday, two Shuttles sit ready to launch from pads 39A and 39B - one will service the Hubble telescope and the other is on standby as a rescue spacecraft. This is the final time that two will stand together on their launch pads. It's quite an impressive sight.

For more history, terrific images and lots of updates about the shuttle, the missions and loads more - click HERE

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Like Eddie

Bridge across the broads - Potter Heigham, Norfolk, UK

One of the most interesting revelations i picked up on while watching 'The Unlikely Weapon' film trailer was Eddie Adams' critical opinion of his own work. At one point he states 'maybe if i make the perfect picture I'll be happy'. It's a thought that is often cited by creative people but is it a healthy philosophy to have?

I have been described as a 'perfectionist'. My best friend Steve often calls me that and i believe he is right. Many of the photographs on the blog are viewed and altered several times before i upload them. Too fussy? Absolutely! I suppose that i believe in the statement that you are only as good as your last photo. Ridiculous really because most retrospective exhibitions by the great icons/heroes of photography often feature a lifetime of work. Thirty, forty or even sixty years of work can hang on the walls of the gallery.

I think that creative people tend to be hard to please when it comes to their own work. Maybe that's why we keep taking photographs. Are we all like Eddie searching for that perfect image? Oh dear... I'm starting to sound like the photographic equivalent of Carrie from Sex in the city :o) but seriously i would be interested to hear whether you all feel the same about your work. Are all artists trying to attain that perfect piece of work? I think i might be.

Saturday 11 April 2009

An Unlikely Weapon

"An Unlikely Weapon" Trailer from American Photo on Vimeo.

Photographs can result in all sorts of consequences for the photographer or subject. In Eddie Adams' case, his infamous Vietnam war image affected three individuals hugely - the Vietcong suspect executed in the image, the ARVN General who carried out the execution and finally the photographer. In many respects the story started after the image was taken.

An Unlikely Weapon is a fascinating documentary film about photographer Eddie Adams whose infamous image became an iconic symbol the horror of the Vietnam conflict. Adams was rarely satisfied with his work - his iconic execution image especially - which is surprising considering the quality and diversity of his portfolio. For more details about this interesting new film go to the website at

Tuesday 7 April 2009

In the dark

Ayresome park football ground - Middlebrough, UK, October 1991

Tomorrow, i will be stepping into a darkroom for the first time in about three years. The darkroom in question belongs to a friend who has had a darkroom kit languishing in a spare room for ages. It's set up but he doesn't really know where to start. That's where i come in.

I love darkrooms. They are (or were) a photographer's refuge from the world - a spiritual place for producing photographic prints away from the distractions of the world - but they are gradually dying out and being replaced by the 'soulless' digital processing of Photoshop. It's progress i suppose, and in many respects Photoshop is much better, but somehow digital lacks that essential...erm... thing!!??!!

I haven't got a darkroom anymore - it's all packed away carefully in boxes - but i hope that one day... maybe... one day i might just unpack everything again.

Saturday 4 April 2009

Polar archive

Grotto in a berg. The British Antarctic Expedition ship, the Terra Nova, is in the distance - Jan. 5th 1911.

Listening to a BBC podcast recently, i heard about the Freeze Frame online photographic archive of polar photographs covering nearly 100 years of polar expeditions. The images number over 20,000 and cover virtually every aspect of polar exploration from wildlife to portraits of the explorers themselves.

The skill of the photographers working in the cold conditions is particularly impressive. Film become brittle in the sub zero temperatures and camera controls can jam solid due to the cold. One photographer's work, Herbert George Ponting, is especially worth taking a look at. His well composed and artistic images capture the landscape, men and experiences of the explorers beautifully.

The fascinating Freeze frame archive can be found HERE.

Thursday 2 April 2009

Help or hindrance?

G20 'protester' smashes the window of The Royal Bank of Scotland, London, UK

After viewing the G20 demonstration photographs distributed widely over the last day or so, I've started to wonder about the boundaries between photographer and subject when it comes to press photography. The above image shows the media frenzy for a story. Would the protester have smashed the window if the mass of photographers hadn't been there? Possibly but he might not have.

Influence is what we are dealing with here. How does a camera affect the way we act? Does it intensify the actions of those in the camera viewfinder? I believe that it can - in certain situations - but i have that documentary photography philosophy which is that the photographer should be a witness but not a participating influence on the story being told. With the above photograph you can almost feel the excitment felt by the press snappers as the destruction begins - they have their eye catching front page image. It turns a quiet, boring news story into a headline grabbing circus with the press feeding off the resulting frenzy.

I'm not the only one whose reservations over certain media images of the G20 demo. Over at the PhotographyLot blog, Tom White expresses many of the sentiments that i feel too. Have a look at Tom's excellent article HERE