Tony Ray-Jones

Tony Ray-Jones (7 June 1941- 13 March 1972) was an influential British post-war photographer who is best remembered for his light-hearted, quirky images of the English social landscape. The documentation of his fellow countrymen engaged in various leisure activities embodied a uniquely distinctive vision; quite a departure from the objective style of the 1960s war photographer. Ray-Jones' subjective and artistic approach to photography subsequently influenced a new generation of independent photographers emerging in 1970s Britain including Martin Parr, Daniel Meadows, Chris Steele-Perkins, and Simon Roberts. 

Ray-Jones was born in Wells, Somerset to a physiotherapist mother and the British artist Raymond Ray-Jones (whose etchings are included in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum). At the age of eight, Ray-Jones lost his father, forcing the family to rely on financial support from the Artist's Orphan Fund. Ray-Jones studied graphic design at the London School of Printing where he first encountered the work of Bill Brandt, whose brother taught at the school. In 1960, at the age of nineteen Ray-Jones won a two-year scholarship to the prestigious American university, Yale, after submitting a portfolio of photographs taken from the window of a taxicab in Algiers. He studied alongside Joseph Albers and obtained a MFA in graphic design working with colour. A chance encounter with Alexey Brodovitch, art director of Harper's Bazaar for two decades, steered Ray-Jones away from furthering a career in graphic design for advertising agencies. Brodovitch was teaching at the Design Laboratory in New York, held in the studio of Richard Avedon. Ray-Jones was a student from 1962-3; other students included Robert Frank, Art Kane, Irving Penn and Garry Winogrand. 

Brodovitch would prove to be a lifelong friend and a mentor to Ray-Jones, who adopted his artistic approach. A brief stint as associate art director of Brodovitch's Sky magazine was followed by freelance photography work for publications such as Car and Driver and Saturday Evening Post. In 1966, he returned to England and began the project of recording the English at leisure whilst supporting himself through more commercial assignments fromThe Sunday Times Magazine and others. Between 1966-68, Ray-Jones travelled around England in a VW camper van, capturing the customs and eccentricities of the British people; holidays in seaside towns, beauty pagaents, parades and other social events. His work was first exhibited in 1969 at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London which also featured the work of Dorothy Bohm, Don McCullin and Enzo Ragazzini. In fact, Ray-Jones was the first contemporary British photographer to have a one-man touring exhibition. However, economic difficulties demanded less attention be paid to personal projects, and Ray-Jones concentrated on commercial assignments. In 1971 he returned to the United States with his wife Anna after accepting a teaching position at the San Francisco Art Institute. He began to plan several new personal projects, including the plight of the American Indian, but was diagnosed with leukemia in 1972. Three days after returning to England to be treated at the Royal Marsden Hospital, Tony Ray-Jones died, aged thiry-one. 

Although his photographic career spanned just over a decade, Tony Ray-Jones produced a richly diverse body of work that celebrated the melodramatic nature of the human character- synthesizing a personalized mélange of compassion, curiosity and irony. As he explained to Creative Camera in 1968:

I have tried to show the sadness and the humour in a gentle madness that prevails in a people. The situations are sometimes ambiguous and unreal, and the juxtaposition of elements seemingly unrelated, and the people are real. This, I hope helps to create a feeling of fantasy. Photography can be a mirror and reflect life as it is, but I also think that perhaps it is possible to walk, like Alice, though a Looking-Glass, and find another kind of world with the camera.

Selected Solo Exhibitions:

Only in England, Media Space, Science Museum, London and National Media Museum, Bradford.
Tony Ray-Jones. Another Country, James Hyman Gallery, London


Tony Ray-Jones: The English, Guernsey Photography Festival, June 2011


Tony Ray-Jones, Starmach Gallery, Krakow


The Photographs of Tony Ray-Jones, Louisiana Art & Science Museum, Baton Rouge, USA


A Gentle Madness: The Photographs of Tony Ray-Jones, National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Bradford
A Gentle Madness: The Photographs of Tony Ray-Jones, Nederlands Fotomuseum, Netherlands


A Day Off: An English Journal, Ariel Meyerowitz Gallery, New York


A Gentle Madness: The Photographs of Tony Ray-Jones, Les Recontres Internationales de la Photographie at Arles 


Tony Ray-Jones, Focus Gallery, London


Tony Ray-Jones, Optica: centre for contemporary art, Montreal


Master of the Medium, Optica: centre for contemporary art, Montreal


Tony Ray-Jones, Recontre Gallery, Paris 

Selected Group Exhibitions:


Observers, Sesi, Sao Paulo


Mass Photography: Blackpool Through the Camera, Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool, England
The Antidote to Troubled Times, Alan Klotz Gallery, New York
The Lives of Great Photographers, National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Bradford


Let Us Face the Future: British Art 1945-1968, Fundacion Joan Miro, Barcelona, Spain
Autour de l'extreme, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris


No Such Thing as Society, Photography in Britain: 1968-1987, Hayward Gallery, London (touring exhibition)


Post WWII British Photography, Alan Klotz Gallery, New York
Silver - Artrage 25, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Perth, Australia
Live Art on Camera, Space, London


Between Today and Yesterday, Turnpike Gallery, Leigh, England
Being Beauteous, White Space Gallery, London
A Selection of Exceptional Vintage Photographs, Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago, USA
The British Are Coming: A Group Exhibition, Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto


Beach Photography, White Space Gallery, London
Tiefenscharfe, Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Baden-Baden, Germany


La Photographie a l'epreuve, Musee d'Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne Metropole, France
La Photographie a l'epreuve, Institut d'art contemporain, Villeurbanne, France


Collecting Photography, Focus Gallery, London
Les choix dCB, Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

& Tony Ray-Jones, Astley Cheetham Art Gallery, Ashton-under-Lyne, England


Personal Views, Phototec, Nicosia, Cyprus
Personal Views, Odos Athinon Gallery, Limassol, Cyprus


Through the Looking Glass: Photographic art in Britain 1945-1989, Barbican Art Gallery, London


British Photography: Tony Ray-Jones, David Hurn and Ian Berry, XYZ Fotografie Gallery, Ghent, Belgium


Personal Views, Musees Royaux des Beaux Arts, Brussels, Belgium


Personal Views, Brazil

Les choix de l': la photographie depuis 1940, Musee du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec


Les choix de l': la photographie depuis 1940, Musée dcontemporain de Montréal, Montreal, Quebec


Personal Views, Galerije Grada, Zagreb, Yugoslavia


Documenta 6, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel


Portrund Situationen, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart


Portrund Situationen, Haus am Waldsee: Der Ort internationaler Gegenwartskunst, Berlin


Four Photographers in Contrast, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
Vision and Expression, George Eastman House, Rochester, New York  



National Media Museum 
British Council 
Arts Council  
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 
Baio Collection of Photography
Victoria & Albert Museum
John Creasey Museum
Bibliotheque Nationale de France