Only in England : Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr

Intro Poster

Later this month I’ll be assisting Dovegreyreader (alias Lynne) at the Port Eliot Festival in Cornwall. Any posts I may do about events may be on here or maybe over at Lynne’s blog.

M Parr 1976

One of Lynne’s guests will be the photographer Martin Parr. For many years I have been intrigued by Parr’s photos. We had lots of his titles in my library so I would often have a look and wonder to myself – Is this a put up job? Or are the subjects unaware that they are having their picture taken?

MP book

Parr Book

 A Couple of Parr’s books in the Museum Shop : sandals are the theme of the day

Until Lynne gave me the nod I was unaware that Parr was involved in an exhibition locally: Only in England : Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr. It was showing at the National Media Museum in Bradford until the end of June. Bradford is but a few miles away so the other Saturday afternoon I took a trip over there to see what the exhibition was all about.

I found that the two galleries of the exhibition were complementary to each other exploring the relationships between Tony Ray-Jones (1941-72) and Martin Parr (b.1952). Parr was invited by the Curator of Photographs, Greg Hobson, to study the Ray-Jones archive (acquired by the Museum in 1993) and help bring together a collection for display alongside early work of Parr’s centred on the local Calder Valley between 1975 and 1979 when he himself lived in Hebden Bridge. “The Non-Conformists” was his first major body of work.

Non-Con Book

Ray-Jones spent the latter half of the 1960s travelling around England photographing what he thought of as fast-disappearing way of life. He also spent half a year travelling in the USA but sadly Tony Ray-Jones died in 1972, aged 30, of leukaemia.

“Ray-Jones was interested in the eccentricities of human behaviour, which for him embodied the English personality. He approached his project like an anthropologist, thoroughly researching his methods, locations and subjects. The resulting photographs are remarkable. Characterised by wry humour, they are nonetheless full of melancholy and lament the disappearing cultures that influenced Ray-Jones’s own emotional and artistic development. The England that Ray-Jones photographed is very different to the England of today.” [Information board at the exhibition]

“Ray-Jones’s photographs of the English seaside were a powerful influence on Martin Parr. He was fascinated by Ray-Jones’s ability to see the quirky and absurd in the everyday.” [Information board at the exhibition]

Impressions of north

Impressions of the north

I liked reading his notebooks and inspecting other memorabilia on display.

R-J's notes

Ray-Jones’s notes

Books to read

Books to Read

Road to Wigan Pier

His well-thumbed The Road to Wigan Pier

Martin Parr’s selection were based on his collection The Non-Conformists taken in Hebden Bridge and the surrounding area in 1975 when he and his wife moved to live in the town. He focussed on the chapels and their declining congregations and the changing way of life. Being in black-and-white, like Ray-Jones’s, this gives his pictures an old-fashioned, dated, sad, shabby and gloomy feel. It’s grim up north, you know.

I’ve just chosen two photographs – one from Parr and one from Ray-Jones – that both made me smile.


Love this Ray-Jones Tea Scene taken at Weymouth in 1967

Last Cuppa

 And I call this one The Last Cuppa (Parr)

A fellow WordPress blogger took much better notes and has written more extensively about the exhibition here.


7 comments on “Only in England : Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr

  1. dianabirchall says:

    Aren’t these wonderful. Essence of the England I saw on my first trip (1969). But oh, dear, what a shame we will just miss each other, me arriving right after Port Eliot!

  2. Hi Barbara, thanks for this very timely post – it dropped into my inbox just two days after I saw an exhibition of Martin Parr’s photos in Hebden Bridge Town Hall titled The Hebden Years. The exhibition is part of the 2014 Hebden Arts Festival and will be on until the end of July.

    You may have seen some of the photos before as the man cleaning the skylight above a door whilst balancing on a step ladder on one leg is included in the show, but if you are passing through Hebden it may be worth popping in.

    I shall now look out for Tony Ray-Jones’s work.

    Malcolm Taylor

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment here, Malcolm. Yes, the man cleaning the skylight was in the Bradford exhibition and I’d seen it in books. I really hoped to Hebden Bridge before Port Eliot but it just isn’t going to happen I’m afraid. Barbara

  3. nilly says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this exhibition – it was part of my Bradford birthday treat. Ever since we saw the Philip-Lorca diCorcia exhibition at the Hepworth we’ve been pondering the “Is it a set-up?” question when we see this kind of work. I’m not sure it matters!

    • Well, it interests me. I’m intrigued because when I did that 365 photos I tried to take pictures of people without them noticing but just could not do it and I only have a point-and-shoot camera.

  4. […] Martin Parr signing in the Festival Book Shop […]

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