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

6 thoughts on “Off the Shelf – A Day Off, Tony Ray Jones”

  1. Beautifully written, Alex. And I’m not just talking about Mick Jackson. The flick through was a novel way of showing the book. My sister, Elizabeth, has a vast collection of photograph books. I must see if she’s got this one. Love, Derrick

  2. Not Yet! – but have been meaning to add a Tony Ray Jones to my collection- Many thanks for the inspiring write up/flick through Alex

    Elizabeth

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. I noticed some typos and am going to add a couple of reference links to the post so please check back for more info. What’s your favourite photo book, by the way?

  3. As a collector of photo books, this is in my collection.

    I bought a copy of A Day Off in very bad condition for £30, from Amazon, then found & bought a better condition one for about £40. I re-listed the bad one on Amazon for £75 & it sold in 3 days. I now wish I’d kept it.

    A great book and of course his work was a big influence on the likes of Martin Parr. This type of photography/book makes a great contribution to our social anthropology!

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