1st March 2014 OCA TV Group Study visit
I hadn’t managed to read up very much about this exhibition in advance but I’m glad I didn’t because it is sometimes nice to be pleasantly surprised. Subsequent to the visit, I read these articles from Roy Hammans’ website here: http://www.fine-photographs.co.uk/index.php/all-ray-jones-content , watched this video and read the Daily Telegraph article here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/10651906/Tony-Ray-Jones-The-American-Years.html
I enjoyed this exhibition. The main reason is that I recognised a lot of the characters in Ray-Jones photographs. They were from my past, growing up as I did in a south coast seaside town in the nineteen fifties and sixties, before the package holidays boom to the Spanish Costas. At the time Ray-Jones was taking his photographs in Brighton, Eastbourne, Broadstairs and Herne Bay, I was working during the summer holidays in seaside cafés and gift shops, meeting all these wonderful characters determined to make the best of whatever the day threw at them.
I was familiar with what he was attempting to record. As an outsider, rather than a fellow holiday maker, I found it easy to appreciate the eccentricity of his characters and the humour in his prints. I came away from the exhibition with a small book of sixteen postcard prints. There are several prints that I really liked. The first (Location unknown, possibly Broadstairs, c. 1967) shows a young couple prostrate on the sand, kissing in an intimate embrace, next to a beach hut underneath a sign which reads “HAWKING PROHIBITED”. Standing on the veranda of the hut, a man is looking down at them, with what appears to be resigned bewilderment. In my imagination, his next action is to produce a bucket of cold water from behind the railings………
In his interview with Greg Hobson, Joel Meyerowitz explained that he and Ray-Jones used the parades in New York City as young men, to gain experience in shooting almost unobserved as the crowd was distracted by the passing spectacle. Lichfield Bower Parade 1966 is just such a picture with the crowd absorbed by the passing parade while a toddler held in her mothers arms looks directly into the lens. What was it that was more interesting about a man with a camera, than the scene behind him?
Ray-Jones was capturing what he perceived as the passing of an era of a certain type of English eccentricity. I was looking for a counterpart that I could match with contemporary life to show that life hasn’t changed much, just that the props are different. Brighton Beach, c. 1967 shows a young woman, dressed in the fashion of the day, mini skirt, short leather jacket, sunglasses pushed back on top of her short hair, sitting on a towel on the shingle. Also on the towel in a portable record player and half a dozen or so seven inch vinyl records. She is looking to the right of the frame, a distant expression on her face as she (and by default, her fellow sunbathers) listens to her music. A male companion (perhaps?) lies prostrate, bare chested with his face covered by a towel a few feet to her right. Behind her in the top left of the frame, another girl sits with a transistor radio, casting what may be an envious glance towards the girl with the mobile disco. Of course, today we still take our music with us but in a less overt and intrusive manner.
As well as Tony Ray-Jones 8x10 prints, also included in this exhibition are a number of Ray-Jones photographs, selected and printed by Martin Parr as well as some of Ray-Jones’ contact sheets.
The exhibition also included Parr’s “The Non-Conformists” exhibition. This exhibition was Parr’s first notable work, made during a period in which he lived in the Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge in the 1970’s and features the lives of the community around Methodist Chapels in the town. Like Ray-Jones, Parr could see that this way of life was changing and that it needed recording.before it was gone forever. The subject matter is wide ranging and includes all aspects of life in and around the chapels, local industry, Lord Savile’s grouse shooting parties on the moors. The series shows all of the quirky characteristics beloved by Parr in a traditional area of the country at a time before all day pub opening, Sunday shopping, the cell phone and the universal use of the motor car. I got the feeling of “Prim and Proper” no nonsense, down to earth folk where the women wore the trousers and the men did as they were told. Perhaps I have seen too much “Last of the Summer Wine” but I could see that sort of humour in these images.