A while back I visited The Science Museum to see ‘Only in England’ a photography exhibition showcasing the work of Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr.
The work was simplistically displayed in a timeline that travelled through 1960’s-70’s Britain, and the shots themselves were so understated and matter-of-fact that the work allowed you to explore and discover without feeling directed.
It was curious to see the partly assumed British ‘‘way‘ captured from coast to coast with such compositional brilliance that the spontaneity of each photography was honest and seemingly fleeting.
It was – in part – a reminiscent journey for me as the winding lanes that bank the Yorkshire Moors made up a whole section of the exhibition. The shots were mainly taken in Hebden Bridge – which is a stones throw away from where I grew up – interestingly juxtaposed by the contrasting images they nestled between on the time line from beach shots in Brighton and pedestrian shots of 1960’s London. I gleefully traced each of the images in hope that I’d spot a relative or family friend captured in a monochrome moment. I found myself drawn to each character that was presented and not only admired the way they were framed in the shot but how they themselves were almost entire works of art. From the fabulously flirty mini dresses to the suited and booted fellas at the beach – each person so brilliantly unique yet captured in a unity that could have collated the whole collection.
In a short interview with Martin Parr (also shown in the exhibition) he explains how the earlier works of Tony Ray-Jones had inspired him to revisit and recapture some of the images some 40 years later.
Although they never met, the compositional styles of both photographers are for me inseparably combined in this exhibition. Parr worked from a lot of Ray-Jones’ original notebook scrawls to understand his mode of practice and where he took inspiration. In a list titled how to make work from Ray-Jones notes one thing that stands out is the importance of patience in photography; a point that you can see is well mastered and nourished within both photographers work.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Ray-Jones’ scrap book – also on show at the exhibition – contained lots of bustling seaside postcards from the 60’s which are clearly mirrored in his photographs of eccentric Britons sprawling the beaches with make-shift sun shields and well packed picnics.
Overall, I’d describe the exhibition as an unapologetic display of British folk going about their every day lives. Both photographers clearly have a great eye for humour and capturing the nuance of human personality and it was very interesting to see those blink-and-its-gone moments displayed so beautifully in this well-travelled exhibition.
Blackpool (1968) Tony Ray-Jones – Only in England