“number of socially committed photographers is practically nil” Tony Ray-Jones Quote

Only In England.

Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr,

Exhibition at Media Space at the Science Museum


When I was at the exhibition I read the following quote by Tony Ray-Jones that is interesting.

” The number of socially committed photographers is practically nil. Reason being is its not financially rewarding and secondly its very hard, tedious and time consuming. This is partly why I can’t consider photography art, but I believe at its best it can be.

Surely the most vital and important use of the camera is a personal tool, especially social. Its importance lies in this field because of its size, format, mechanics etc.To pursue solely texture, line and form seems to me to be to be fruitless as must be accomplished by pencil and brush.”

As far as I know, I copied this correctly some of Tony Ray-Jones writing is actually quite hard to read. What I find interesting in this quote is the idea even back in 1960 something that socially committed photographers were not very numerous and also could not find a way to be remunerated for their work. If it is socially useful as photography then it will most often never be considered as art which I suspect is only natural as we like Art to be able to be hung in galleries on white walls and are socially useful photography to be used for political purposes and never shall the twain meet. The next bit I find interesting as I often in my photographic courses find students were more interested in making images that explore  texture, line and form in photographs and not the content of the photographs which, I’ve always thought a little strange. Let me explain a bit more, I know when you as a photographer beginning you want to learn things like shutter speeds and apertures, ISOs, how lenses work etc, yet what gets often overlooked and photographic education especially is why you are making images. We all want to learn skills which enable us to make photographs but often, I find students forget something, they forget images that work have some form of emotional connection to the viewer and creator head or heart response from a viewer of your image. And often this is not going to be from a photograph that is all about texture, line and form and Tony Ray-Jones response to this conundrum is that maybe using a pencil or brush would be a more appropriate art-form.

While I highly enjoyed looking at the exhibition, and I will admit that I only got to explore the first room in one hour and there were two moor two more rooms so I’m going to have to go back again (Oh the hardship of  it all).  I found the images that were I assume printed in 1993 to be rather dark, nice contrast yet lacking in detail because of the density they were printed at. Whereas  there were a few original prints by I assume Tony Ray-Jones that are in Martin Parr’s collection in a display case that show different tonal range and density these should be looked at and then compared to the ones mounted on the walls in the exhibition. I was given access to Tony Ray-Jones negatives to present them I would have prompted them with the density is being not so  dark with a wonderful tonal range that I suspect is in the negative for me it would be very interesting to see Tony Ray-Jones negatives as it would show me more about how he worked as a photographer. Tony Ray-Jones has a wonderful sense of humour and a very quick eye to see put together his photographs is documentary photography still stands up today and is helped by the fact that he shot in black-and-white. Yet I can’t help wondering when looking at his work how new it felt at the time that he was making it in the 1960’s or was it a case of England felt like an old familiar place with familiar tropes being photographed with a new Americanised dynamic and approach to photographing in England.

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