Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr Photographing the English

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Photographers Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr were united by their gently satirical documentation of our national characteristics.

Excerpted from: Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr: Photographing the English by Lucy Davies.

Martin Parr on the influence of Tony Ray-Jones on his photography: [In] 1970 [at] a lecture theatre at Manchester Polytechnic, where an 18-year-old Martin Parr was studying photography. Enter Bill Jay, on a mission to infuse the country’s fledgling photo­graphers with the same energy and outlook that he had seen in the work Ray-Jones had shown him. Parr, now 61, remembers hearing Jay talking about Ray-Jones. 'That [visual] language that [Ray-Jones] caught, that he encapsulated, was able to portray the atmosphere and the feeling of the time in a way that hadn’t yet been achieved. Even though there had been lots of photographs of Britain, such as the images in Picture Post, his just felt different. They brought something else… a sort of street theatre, or in this case beach theatre.’

Portobello Road Market, 1966, by Tony Ray-Jones PHOTO: Tony Ray-Jones © National Media Museum Next month visitors to Media Space, the new home for the National Photography Collection at the Science Museum, London, will be treated to a display of these vintage Ray-Jones prints, alongside 'The Non-conformists’, the work Parr produced when he moved, in 1972, with a group of other Manchester graduates, to Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, and set up the Albert Street Workshop. It is a study of the local community, in chapel, at tea, queuing for Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Parr has always acknowledged that this work was fundamentally inspired by Ray-Jones. 'He learnt the way that people made their own world, generated their own world, from, in this case, the streets of America. He applied that idea to the UK. That’s what inspired me.’

Silver Jubliee street party, 1977, Todmorden, by Martin Parr. PHOTO: MARTIN PARR. MAGNUM PHOTOS

Ray-Jones died of leukaemia in 1972, aged 31, but his experiments were everything for the generation of photographers that followed. 'There’s a certain benefit of hindsight,’ Parr says. 'You can think differently 40 years on, and we’ll never know if Ray-Jones would have approved. But his best shots from back then still stand very well, they’re still brilliant images. The Beachy Head boat trip, and the shots of Margate and Glyndebourne. Those pictures are icons of documentary photography in the UK; they’re difficult to better.’

  • Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr, at the Media Space, Science Museum, London SW7, from September 21 (sciencemuseum.org.uk/onlyinengland); National Media Museum, Bradford, through March 16 (nationalmediamuseum.org.uk). Martin Parr: The Non-conformists (Aperture, £30), out October 7, can be ordered for £24 plus £1.35 p&p from Telegraph Books (0844-871 1514; books.telegraph.co.uk)