Yale University School of ArtLondon School of Printing
Tony Ray-Jones (born 1941, died 1972) was a British photographer who, despite his early death at age 31, had a profound influence on other documentary photographers of his time as well as many contemporary photographers.
Tony Ray-Jones studied at the London School of Printing, where he concentrated on graphic design. In the early 1960s he obtained a scholarship that enabled him to join Yale University School of Art on the strength of photographs he had taken in north Africa from a taxi window.
Although only 19 on his arrival at Yale, Ray-Jones' talent was obvious, and in 1963 he was given assignments for the magazines Car and Driver and Saturday Evening Post.
Eager to use photography for more creative purposes, Ray-Jones went to the Design Lab held by the art director Alexey Brodovitch in the Manhattan studio of Richard Avedon; Brodovitch's gruff manner and high standards won respect and hard work from Ray-Jones and others. Ray-Jones also got to know a number of New York "street photographers", in particular Joel Meyerowitz, who influenced his later work.
Ray-Jones graduated from Yale in 1964 and photographed the United States energetically until his departure for Britain in late 1965. From then until 1970, he lived and worked at 102 Gloucester Place, Marylebone, now marked by a memorial plaque.
On his arrival, he was shocked at the lack of interest in non-commercial photography, let alone in publication of book collections of it. He was also unsure of what subject he might pursue, but the idea of a survey of the English at leisure gradually took shape, and he was able to work on this and at the same time portrait and other work for the Radio Times, Sunday newspapers, and magazines.
Ray-Jones tried to extensively document the way of life of the English "before it became too Americanised". His photographs of festivals and leisure activities are full of a somewhat surreal humour and show the influence of photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand, Homer Sykes and his own collection of the work of Sir Benjamin Stone. Part of this work was published posthumously in his book A Day Off (1974).
Ray-Jones was both sociable and abrasive, introducing himself to Peter Turner, the editor of Creative Camera, by saying "Your magazine's shit". But he impressed Turner (who later acknowledged Ray-Jones as one of the greatest influences on his view of photography), and also worked hard and successfully to have exhibitions of his works.
Tony Ray-Jones returned to the United States in January 1971 to work as a teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute — one of the few ways in which he could legally stay in the US. He disliked teaching, finding the students self-centered and lazy, but he was soon able to busy himself working on assignments for both the British and the US press.
In late 1971, Ray-Jones started to suffer from exhaustion. Early the next year leukaemia was diagnosed, and he started to have chemotherapy. Medical treatment in the US was too expensive, so Ray-Jones flew to London on 10 March and immediately entered the Royal Marsden Hospital; he died there on 13 March.
A brilliant new book presents a carefully edited selection of previously unpublished Tony Ray-Jones colour photographs from the earliest period of his work, all made in the United States.
Photographer Tony Ray-Jones, who died in 1972 at the early age of 31, exerted an enormous influence on the development of British documentary art photography that continues to be reflected in the work of Martin Parr and many others. A retrospective of his work was a highlight during the Month of Photography in Krakow, Poland.