Reproduced in full here is the introduction to Ray-Jones’ first and ground-breaking book ‘A Day Off‘, the book that he did not live long enough to see published. Written by Ainslie Ellis, a contributing editor for The British Journal of Photography at the time, and used in that journal two years previously, it gives an excellent overview of Ray-Jones’ life and work.
In San Francisco on 18 February 1972 Tony Ray-Jones was told that he had an acute and rare form of leukaemia. He died in London at the Royal Marsden Hospital less than a month later. He was thirty years old. The pictures that he took, and what he had to say about photography, these are of singular importance.
‘I want my pictures to bite like the images in Bunuel’s films which disturb you while making you think. I want them to have poignancy and sharpness but with humour on top.’
It is difficult to think of any other British photographer but Tony Ray-Jones whose pictures have that rare blend of humour and sadness which is born of both compassion and irony. This is something that springs from the depths of character and it is something that cannot be copied or faked. The imitation, the phoney baloney version of the mixture, as Tony would say, is a blend of sentiment and sarcasm, and is totally alien to his work and to his nature. To find the key to Tony Ray-Jones’s photography one must look first to the cinema, to the films which he loved. A friend of his, a student of the same period at the London College of Printing, David Burch says:
‘I have seen him quoted as being influenced by Vigo, Bunuel and Fellini but it should also be remembered that he loved the films of the Marx Brothers and Jacques Tati. I went with him to see Mon Oncle and he was in hysterics in some parts of it. The scene on board ship in A Night at the Opera where the small cabin is bursting at the seams with people and Groucho invites yet another character to come on in and walk around was one of his favourite sequences. Chaplin, too, interested him very much. When he was sharing a flat near Baker Street he had a very erratic projector but used to run a Chaplin film just to point out the composition of the shots.‘
Anna, his wife, says that of all the many films which he loved none compared in his mind with Jean Vigo’s ‘L’Atalante’. This film about life on a barge, the marriage of the skipper to his girl, with Michel Simon’s incomparable portrait of the monstrous old seaman in his crabbed cabin, is shot through and through with bucolic humour and the poignant irony that Tony was to make his own with other subjects and in still photography.