Tony Ray Jones
Chris Boot / National Museum of Photography, Film and Television
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The exhibition A Gentle Madness was the first major retrospective of Tony Ray-Jones’ work, and looked to re-appraise his contribution to photography in Britain. Ray-Jones is recognized as important for several reasons, including his influence on the rise of independent art photography in Britain during the 70s, and an emerging generation of photographers including Martin Parr and Daniel Meadows, with his acerbic account of Englishness (A Day Off, 1974). It sought to contextualise Ray-Jones’ best-known work with lesser-known and unseen photographs along with diaries, notebooks and correspondence. The exhibition and book looked at the traffic in documentary styles between Europe and the US, and the influence of Surrealism and popular cinema in developing Ray-Jones’ approach to identity and place. For English and Dutch venues, an additional section was included that located Ray-Jones in terms of legacy, influences and polemics on questions of nationhood. It included the work of Friedlander, Frank, Winogrand, Cartier-Bresson, Parr, Stone, Reas, Steele-Perkins, Billingham and Killip amongst others. The exhibition had its premier at the Les Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie at Arles (France). As part of Arles, it was reviewed in over 50 publications and was featured on several Continental European television stations. In the UK the BBC, Guardian and Eye Magazine covered the exhibition; it was also the starting point for a series of Arts Council conferences 'What Happened Here? Photography in Britain Since 1968'. The book developed themes of the exhibition and is part biography and cultural history, with emphasis on Ray-Jones’ experiences in the US, and susbequent portrayal of English customs as sites of resistance to America and globalization. The book includes a fascinating interview between Bill Jay, editor of Creative Camera and Album in the 60s and 70s, and photographer Martin Parr.
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