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National Science and Media Museum

This exhibition provided an opportunity to view rarely-seen work by Tony Ray-Jones, including images from his time in America.

Born in Somerset, Tony Ray-Jones produced the seminal photographic essay A Day Off (1974), a sardonic portrayal of the seaside resorts, customs and festivals of England. Photographed in the late 1960s, this sometimes surreal collection captured many of the country’s notable eccentricities and remains one of the most distinctive accounts of ‘Englishness’.

Initially inspired by great European photographers such as Cartier-Bresson and Brassaï, Ray-Jones moved to America in 1961 and discovered a new generation of ‘street photographers’ such as Lee Friedlander and Diane Arbus. He was also seduced by American mass culture, street parades and shop window displays: he came to see America as a series of clichés, and his ideas of ‘Englishness’ were considerably heightened by the contrast. On his return to England in 1965, he brought this expanded vision to bear on life in England, portraying it with wry humour and pathos.

This exhibition explores the development and growth of Tony Ray-Jones’ vision over this period. It shows how his experiences in the UK and US helped to focus his ideas and skills into the clarity of photographic vision that captured the curious nature of his homeland in his seminal project A Day Off.

Honeymoon Hotel, Poconos Mountains, Pennsylvania 2, 1971, Tony Ray-Jones © Science Museum Group collection © Science Museum Group collection
Honeymoon Hotel, Poconos Mountains, Pennsylvania 2, 1971, Tony Ray-Jones