Tony Ray-Jones was an English photographer. He grew up in the Home Counties and London, where he studied graphic design at the London School of Printing. He was awarded a scholarship that enabled him to study at the Yale School of Art in the US.
Ray-Jones graduated from Yale in 1964 and, during a year-long stay in New York, frequented the laboratory of Alexey Brodovitch, and had the chance to meet and draw inspiration from street photographers like Joel Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand. In their company, Leica in hand, he learnt to melt into the multi-ethnic New York crowd, and to capture candid and telling photographs. During this time, on a visit to New Orleans, he captured a series of black & white images of elderly local musicians, many in their own homes.
In 1965, he brought his experience and understanding of documentary photography back to the UK. He purchased a camper van, touring and documenting the weird and wonderful aspects of life in the UK.
In January 1971, he returned to the US to work as a teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute. On a trip to the Los Angeles area, Ray-Jones photographed local blues singers in their own environments. But in 1972 he was diagnosed with leukaemia and, after returning to the UK, died in March of that year at the age of 30. A selection of his English photographs was published posthumously in A Day Off: An English Journal (1974).
Although his photographic career spanned just over a decade, Tony Ray-Jones produced a richly diverse body of work that celebrated the melodramatic nature of the human character, creating a personalised mixture of compassion, curiosity and irony. His pictures achieved a significant following among younger photographers.
In 2019, a major exhibition of his work The English Seen by Tony Ray-Jones was held and many of the images first published in 1974 were curated and republished.
The collection of Tony Ray-Jones’ photos held by the Archive contains 11 black and white images from his 1964 trip to New Orleans and 9 colour prints of Californian blues singers in 1971. All these images were part of a 1972 exhibition at The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain entitled ‘New Orleans Jazz Performers and Oakland California Blues Singers’. His family gifted the original images to the British Institute of Jazz Studies and they were later integrated into the NJA collection.
The main Tony Ray-Jones archive is held at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, which owns the copyright of all the images shown. They are displayed here by their kind permission.