Its not very often that I enter a gallery and feel as if I am surrounded by my old friends, the iconic works of Tony Ray-Jones have been with me since 1980 when I came across "A Day Off" in a discount bookshop on Oxford St, before then I had been drip fed a meagre ration of TRJ via Creative Camera magazine and Album to be honest at that stage the teenage photographer I was, was not seeing it !
At the age of 20 seeing the work as one,helped me understand it, I was riveted by his approach, the wit, humour and irony slowly emerged before my eyes. the more I looked the better it got, It was like watching my first 10 x 8 develop in a dish as the details emerged my understanding of my country and my photography started grow.
At the age of 20, I had completed my formal photography education , I loved the Documentary approach that I was seeing at the Newcastle Side Gallery that introduced me to some of the greatest photographers that will ever live, although at that time I did not realise the privileged position I was in, Brandt, HCB, Weegee and many other giants of photography were delivered to me gift wrapped on Newcastle's Quayside every month and I soaked up these exhibitions like a sponge, remember this is the pre-internet era and looking back I now realise how lucky I was to have such a great free resource on my doorstep.
The thing that perplexed me was that interest in "my" Ray-Jones appeared to have fallen off the radar, I knew he had died young but why had the photographic establishment not given this great talent greater recognition ? How could I buy Another Day Off( new American first edition) for less than a fiver in England's capital only six years after the posthumous publication of what to me is the greatest photographic study of England ,ever !
I continued to pursue my commercial photography career which of course is a total contrast to the photography that had inspired me personally, I believed then that Art photography or Social Documentary was not going to allow me to sustain myself financially, I maintained my interest in what I thought of as proper photography while creating images, any images for cash.
This story then fast forwards to 2012 a time when my hamster wheel of commercial photography is behind me and the world is now embracing digital photography, I create an image on the holiday island of Majorca that awakens my interest in all things Ray Jones, the more I look at this pic the more I see how TRJ has influenced how I see !
This image reminded me of many of the little tricks TRJ introduced me to, the underwater child is almost a direct link to the surrealist Ray-Jones image captured in Clacton of the boy swimming towards the figure in front of the pool inspection window. The lady with the sunglasses appears to have fallen out of the Barry Island Caravan image 1967, I promise none of this was intentional at the time of capture but it does help me understand the source of many of my photographic triggers.
I have since spent the last four years trying to understand the influences of Ray-Jones on my personal photography and the work of others and have almost completed the journey and its great that I am able to visit a gallery in Liverpool and reacquaint myself with the work that helped shape my ideas of what is good photography and helped me see another England !
I wish he could have witnessed how his work has inspired most British photographers today although they might not be aware of it or choose to acknowledge it !