Off the Shelf – A Day Off, Tony Ray Jones

A DAY OFF by Tony Ray Jones, published by Thames and Hudson, London 1974

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In trying to write about this important book that, arguably,  gave British photography a new ‘waypoint’ by which to set its progress, I have been through other people’s reviews and blogs in an attempt to rob, adapt and regurgitate any writing which sheds some new light on this revered work.

First up I found this bit of text by the novelist Mick Jackson from his essay for the exhibition of TRJ’s work ‘Only in England’ held in conjunction with Martin Parr at the Science Museum in 2013. This text sets the tone of the time and scene which these photographs depict.

Here they come. The bloody English… in their Zephyrs, Wolseleys and Anglias. Off to their beauty pageants, caravan parks and penny arcades. Off on their day trips and annual marches. Off to watch the children’s parade. Off to their dog shows and fancy-dress competitions. To eat their buns under umbrellas. To sit in deckchairs in their suits and ties. Here they are… in their cardigans and V-neck sweaters, their trews and short-shorts. Boys, girls, mums and dads, grandmas and grandads – resolutely cheerful on their joyless holidays. Off to follow their peculiar little rituals. The Punch and Judy. The ballroom dancing. The morris dancing. The coach and boat trip. The grim little street markets. The freezing beaches.

I am a fan of Tony Ray Jones’s work because I love his pictures. He is a sensitive and compassionate photographer whose editing of his own work shows that he is a great a composer of images on a par with the greatest names from 20th century photojournalism. The exhibition mentioned above where TRJ’s work was compared and contrasted with the work of his contemporary Martin Parr exposed the surly hauteur of the latter’s work and underlined the warmth and directness of the former. This is just my view and this last paragraph is a merely a digression to set my ’emotional’ stall out.

The book is what we’re here to discuss. ‘A Day Off’ was published in 1974 posthumously by Thames and Hudson (Ray Jones died aged 30 in 1972) and for some the book does not do justice to the man’s amazing body of work achieved in so short a time. I’d like to give a credit to the essay by Kath Jackson Jones (see link below) in which she forensically criticises the ‘A Day Off’ for its sloppy layout and for the glaring omission of some key images. Not only that but the printing of the pictures is heavy handed whereas Tony Ray Jones was highly concerned with the quality of his prints and the layout of his work – for the surreal nature of the images the dynamic revealed in juxtaposition is essential to convey the full power of the images.

However, with these drawbacks acknowledged, it is still possible to view this book as important, not only, in establishing the work and reputation of Tony Ray Jones in an indelible fashion but also in steering British documentary photography in a new direction.

Since its publication many British documentary photographers have cited TRJ’s work as an essential building block in the development of their own work and style. From my personal experience as a printer working for many such photographers I have probably had more discussion about Ray Jones than any other and from this empirical evidence alone I can testify to the profound influence he has had on modern British photography.

‘A Day Off’ is a collection of images made for all the right reasons. These photographs were shot to fulfil the creative and enquiring desire of an English photographer with an eye for the surreal and the sad as well as the chaos and the dynamism of the British with some time on their hands.

EXTRAS

Here is a SloMo flick-through that I made of the first edition hardback and a few example images below that.
Note – my flick throughs don’t necessarily show every image but give you a very good idea of how the book looks, feels and fits together. Fullscreen it for best viewing.

Alex

London, June 2015

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LINKS TO OTHER INTERESTING TRJ INFO

Kath Jackson Jones’s blog critique of ‘A Day Off’

Tony Ray Jones on Wikipedia

Liz Jobey on Tony Ray Jones in the Guardian

Instagram, Facebook and Twitter Are Bad For Photography

Robert Frank, Valencia
I am a hypocrite.

I sell individual prints and post single, unrelated images on Instagram. I do this partly because other people do it and I am not impervious to what other people do.  I also post to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook because I am vain and want you to ‘like’ my pictures. So you can see that, after reading  what I’ve written below, you will be able to call me a big, fat HYPOCRITE!

I think photographers need to commit to series of images and not splurge the odd ‘good’ shot on to the internet. This produces a never ending stream of second tier photography at best or a bilge of mediocrity at worst.  

The most wonderful work comes only from a commitment to a subject or theme. As I argue in this piece it is the long term development of a subject which produces the best, most captivating and informative photography and photographers should do their best to adhere to this standard because we risk undermining our own love and enthusiasm for the medium we have chosen to call our own.

Ever since we’ve been venerating the ‘decisive moment‘ we have developed a fetish for the one-off great shot. We marvel at the ‘punctum’ and the surrealism or the pathos and the dynamic of composition in a frame and, in this way, we all hope to achieve perfection in one sixtieth of a second. But the achievement of this photographic state of nirvana is a con that we’ve both sold ourselves and been sold by the media.

When the pictures by great photojournalists of the twentieth century such as Cartier Bresson, Weegee, Winogrand and Capa, became famous we commenced on a path towards the ‘divine truth of the individual shot’ but those photographers were not looking for the one great image when they shot what went on to become epoch defining photographs. These photographers were working on assignments and building up great numbers of images destined for newspapers and magazines whose purpose in publishing these pictures was to tell a story. A few of those images became iconic and we (those who are inspired by these shots) were bamboozled into believing that these great images’ true value was in their singularity. But many of those images were never meant to have been taken out of the context in which they were shot.

Indeed the legendary picture agency Magnum was set up by HCB, Robert Capa and George Rodger to mange their image rights in the dawning age of narrative picture gathering.

Many of Cartier Bresson’s most famous pictures were the product of news assignments or long personal journeys – this could not be further from the fantasy of photographers hanging around the street looking for the odd shot. There were photographers like Doisneau who famously staked out street corners in the hope of snapping something interesting and there may be many photographers who are looking to channel the spirit of Doisneau or Brassai or Meyerowitz  but I suspect that many of us have been duped into the idea that great images happen at random – the myth of the photographer who always carries a camera is the dominant creative impetus  in environmental or ‘street’ photography.

In the new digital era (which will last a lot longer than the age of film) we consume photography – one disparate shot after another. We ‘like’ each others photos on a singular basis without demanding a deeper or broader intellectual context almost as if we are popping Maltesers one after an other into our mouths. Ultimately this is unsatisfying and we will move on to other media leaving photography all the poorer for our departure.

I would like you to consider this; photography (especially in the digital era) is a medium by which we can tell a story through the making of still images and the careful editing of them. We are lucky to be alive at this time when the means to make and disseminate images is so cheap and easy. For the first time in history it is only the time and effort required to produce a compelling narrative photo story which is required. Editing and publishing is now effectively free.

We should break with our single shot fetish and embrace the deeper, more satisfying commitment that a photographer must make to the long form series of photographs which tell a story – a series of pictures which have a momentum of their own borne out by the power of the subject matter they portray.

Instagram is great but it renders single images instantly forgettable by the nature of its structure and the way we interface with it. I suggest we slow down and be more considered in both the way we show our work and the way we consume it. I’ll still use Instagram for those one off shots from time to time because its hard to be pure in a digitally toxic world!

But I will remind myself that the best pictures are the ones that bubble up out of the primordial soup of effort and commitment Why should I burden you, the viewer, with anything that is second best?

Alex, London 5/6/15

See below for some famous pictures all of which have been extracted by the media from their original context.

One of the famous images and instantly recognisable images from Cartier Bresson’s study of Russia.
One of the most famous images of all time – Robert Capa’s image of a fallen soldier taken during the Spanish Civil War.
One of Robert Frank’s most famous images from his book ‘Valencia’.
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‘Blackpool’ by Tony Ray Jones. This shot was included in A Day Off which was published by Thames and Hudson inn 1974.