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By Eleanor Macnair on

An important photographic archive and an innovative collaboration

Eleanor Macnair, Media Space Press Officer, looks at the Tony Ray-Jones collection and the exhibition that will launch Media Space at the Science Museum.

Today’s highlight in the countdown to our 30th birthday is a real pair of aces…

Ace no. 1: In 1994 we acquired the archive of Tony Ray-Jones, whose work influenced a generation of British photographers including Martin Parr, Homer Sykes and Simon Roberts.

Ace no. 2: Over the last few years, we’ve been working on a creative collaboration with the Science Museum, to showcase our photography collection through a series of major exhibitions at a brand new venue for the arts in London—Media Space.

In just a few months time, on Saturday 21st September 2013, these two highlights of our history will coalesce in the very first Media Space exhibition—Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr.

British photographer Tony Ray-Jones died aged just 30 and his career only lasted one decade. Because this decade was the 1960s, before the advent of the internet, you’ve probably never heard of him. I’m certain that if he’d been alive today he’d have had his own website, his exhibitions would have been online, and (more than two) books of his work would have been available on Amazon.

Blackpool, Tony Ray Jones © National Media Museum Collection / SSPL
Blackpool, Tony Ray Jones © Science Museum Group collection

A treasure trove of photographs, negatives, contact sheets and ephemera

Between 1966 and 1969, Tony Ray-Jones and his wife Anna travelled around England in a Volkswagen camper van. He wanted to capture a way of life he believed was disappearing: Morris dancers, seaside picnics out of the car boot, and the stoic English on holiday in unending bad weather. These subjects may seem everyday and even grim, but Ray-Jones made them compelling and very often humorous.

The National Science and Media Museum preserves the Tony Ray-Jones archive as part of the Science Museum Group Collection, and this includes over 2,700 contact sheets of his work. If we estimate that each contact sheet shows 30 images, this means that we have access to a massive 81,000 photographs—most of which have never been seen by the public.

Using this incredible record, which also contains Ray-Jones’ diaries, we can see the scenes he chose to shoot, discover what he thought made a good photograph, unlock his ideas, and even learn his favoured car cleaning method. We can begin to discover the man behind the photographs.

To give you some sense of the size of this archive, in addition to the 2,700 contact sheets, there are approximately 700 photographic prints, 1,700 negative sheets, and 600 boxes of ephemera such as notebooks and diary pages.

Our Curator of Photographs Greg Hobson and photographer Martin Parr have spent months searching through this archive to find new works to share for the opening exhibition at Media Space—Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr. Parr has long championed Ray-Jones’ work, citing his early influence on his own photographs since he first met him as a young student.

A platform for showcasing our photography collection in London

Only in England will be the first of many exhibitions at Media Space which will bring together photographers, artists and curators to collaborate on installations and events.

Media Space before construction. Photo credit: Kate Elliott
Media Space before construction. Photo credit: Kate Elliott

These exhibitions will not only show photographs as images, but also ask questions about photography itself. They will chart the influence of technology and society, and the influence of photography on how we view the world. With 3.2 million photographs in our collection—not to mention negatives, cameras, diaries and correspondence—it’s going to be quite a journey.

We will be releasing behind the scenes material about the making of Media Space exhibitions (and more) on a new Tumblr which will be launched on Monday 3 June 2013, so look out for that.

Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr will open at Media Space on 21 September 2013, and here in Bradford on 22 March 2014.

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