On Sunday 23rd Feburary, I went to see a photography exhibition called Only in England at the London Science Museum. This exhibition ran from the 21st September 2013 and is continuing to the 16th March 2014 and collaborates two photographers: Tony Ray Jones and Martin Parr. This exhibition was suggested to me by a friend, I had been to a lot of fine art exhibitions recently however not a lot of the works did encompass photography, therefore I felt it would be an interesting endeavor to go out of my “comfort zone” and see something different. I was glad I did!
Only in England brought together two photographers that actually have never met. Tony Ray Jones took a series of photos during the years 1966-1970, before he died in 1972, capturing the culture of British life. He wanted to explore the lives and character of the English who at this time were “still divided by class and wedded to tradition”. Jones’ aim was to look at post war social change of an England on the brink of Transformation. He wanted to bring together photos of a range of communities and ethnic groups but sadly he died before he could continue with this work. He took many photographs throughout his exploratory project, not all of them being published and shown to the public until now. Martin Parr’s, the other photographer, greatest photographic influence was Tony Ray Jones. Parr too was interested in capturing British life and culture and he embarked on a series of photos called The Non Conformists between 1974 and 1979. We can see in his photos, especially his “The Non Conformists” collection, how much he was influenced by Jones. This led to him being asked to not only co-curate the gallery with Greg Hobson but he also chose the pictures to be shown in the final part of the gallery: The New Works: a collection of newly restored and printed works by Tony Ray Jones.
The exhibition was curated in a clean and precise way. It was set out as a timeline, starting with an introduction to Tony Ray Jones and his Vintage Works and ideas, this gave us an idea of what was about to come. In the next room was The Non Conformists by Martin Parr, which showed us photographs highly influenced by the ones we had just seen. The last room brought everything together exhibiting a collection of photos by Tony Ray Jones chosen by Martin Parr. The exhibition also had a video in which Martin Parr tells us of his work and Jones’ work and explains his choices of photos in the last room. Seeing as the photos were all spaced out well on a clean white wall, our concentration was not distracted from one piece to another and it was easy to explore the photos.
I found this exhibition strong and bold. It makes a statement and really reaches out to the British Public. Being British I feel as if the exhibition is almost looking back at a timeline of everyday British culture, something that is purely linked to England. We see lots of cultural aspects including our beach culture and it proves to us the way we go about doing things compared to other cultures is highly unique.
Overall I would encourage people to go and see this exhibition. I think it shows a rare view on British culture through stunning black and white prints. The exhibition is well curated making it an easy relaxing display to view, I think there is something for everyone in there. However saying this I do think the main audience for the exhibition, those who would appreciate it most, are those who were alive for the years that the photos were being taken, so the 1960’s/70’s. I consider this audience the ones who could relate to the photos easily being that they were alive for many of these traditions. Nonetheless the main point of the exhibition is that British culture has not changed throughout the years, we are a nation based on many traditions that I can still see in the world around me today. We could say we have modernised, things have clearly gone through a change but what I see in the photos taken by both photographers, I am sure I could find somewhere today.
I am now going to compare and contrast two photos that I saw in the exhibition. The first : Pensioners photographed on Brighton beach, 1966 by Tony Ray-Jones and the second : Odeon Cinema, Halifax, 1977 by Martin Parr.
Source : http://www.theguardian.com/world/picture/2013/sep/24/eyewitness-brighton-uk
Although taken just over a decade apart, these photos are not that different. Both photos are showing people standing in a line, in our first instance we have pensioners sitting in a line on the beach and in the second instance people are queuing in a line for the cinema. In each photo we are given a small snippet of a backdrop which enables the viewer to place the photo in a time frame and location. Having a backdrop helps the photo to have depth and space, especially in the original print the colour and tone of the print help us to distinguish foreground and background. In both photos the background has repetitive calm patterns which again aides the viewer on focusing on the subject of the photo. The black and white of each photo gives the viewer a chance to see the simplicity and quality of the image without being distracted by colour. This again helps the viewer to focus on the subject. In the two images there is a distinguishable “English” feel, the photos give us an insight into the British Culture in both of these times. They both show British pastimes, one focusing on British seaside culture and the other on cinema culture: the film Jaws just being previously released the year before the photo was taken. We can clearly see how Parr has been influenced by Jones especially by looking at these photos. The way the people have been shot in the photo and the way they relate to their surrounding is something that both photographers have captured well.
Although these photos are more similar than they are different we can definitely highlight some contrasting points. Firstly Parr’s photo has been shot with a two point perspective that meet together in the centre and Jones’ photo only shows us a one point perspective as the subject is lined up straight in front of the camera. This proves that although Parr has been strongly influenced by Jones, he still has his own unique style and perspective he wants to put across in his photos. The next contrast the viewer would highlight is the nature of the background. Parr has used a simple background which highlights the Jaws poster on the wall and immediately gives us a location, however this could be any town or city in the UK. Jones however has given us a busier background that although it does not distract from the subject we can clearly see it is a jam packed day on the beach. In Jones’ photo we have a definite location which is the beach at Brighton. Lastly, Jones’ use of texture in his photo is very strong. We can see the rocky texture of the beach and the floral patterns of the fashion of the ladies. In the background there is the typical stripy windshield and the stripy deckchairs and the strong stable lines of the pier. The woven basket also adds to the overall texture of the photo. In contrast, Parr’s photo has little texture. Everything from the clothing to the buildings is all solid and plain looking, minus a girl’s fur jacket on the far right. Parr’s photo is strong for the lack of pattern and the bold subject matter and Jones’ for the loud texture and the humorous subject.
For me personally, my favourite image of the two is Jones’ purely based on the fact to me his photo is stronger because of the texture. I love the humour that does encompass British culture in both images and I feel that both images are powerful. They both feature some of the best parts of British culture and for that reason I feel able to relate to them.
Only in England was an enjoyable and effective exhibition that very much appealed to me as an artist. Although I do not practice photography a lot, it is something I am interested in and after seeing this exhibition it is definitely something I would like to further pursue. I have really been inspired by the works of Jones and Parr and would like to explore their methods of working in my practice.