I love photography. Street photography is my absolute favourite, and street photography with humour is the best of the best for me. So it was with great excitement that I boarded the train to London for the Only in England exhibition of photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr at the Science Museum.
I’ve long been a fan of Martin Parr’s quirky and colourful British seaside photographs, but I knew very little about Tony Ray-Jones. It quickly became apparent that Parr took great inspiration from Ray-Jones’s work, as Ray-Jones’s black and white prints of British scenes from the sixties and seventies displayed the humour and quirky composition that Parr clearly looked for in his later pictures.
Ray-Jones, who died young but produced a vast body of work in his twenties, had an acute eye for good composition. He revelled in capturing contrasting body language and a balance of space between his subjects. He looked for oddity and found it in the most unlikely places. He noticed the extraordinary in the ordinary. I was in awe looking through the huge selection that Parr had collected together for this exhibition.
The real treat for me was being able to see scans from Ray-Jones’s notebooks containing lists of things to look for in a new town (village squares, churches), types of people to photograph (outsiders and eccentrics) and notes to himself, like the beautifully down-to-earth “Don’t take boring pictures” and “be patient”. We were also able to see initial prints with notes on what to darken and lift, showing an insight into the darkroom process and his eye for detail. And Parr had even included a wall full of contact sheets showing hundreds of negatives with his top picks circled in orange, allowing us to see how quickly Ray-Jones captured his pictures after something or someone caught his eye.
All this and I haven’t even mentioned Parr’s own excellent collection displayed here; a collection that explores British people and places in his own distinctive style. Only in England is a truly inspiring collection of work and one that will leave a lasting impression. Fantastic.