Only In England


Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where
other people see nothing.

More than anything else, that was the quotation I was most reminded of at 'Only in England', the London Science Museum's new exhibition of Martin Parr and Tony Ray-Jones photography. It opened last weekend, understandably under the radar as it isn't large, but if you appreciate quietly amusing (and excellent) photography and a history of the unseen England, then I would recommend it.

The exhibition is centred on the mostly unknown photographs of Tony Ray-Jones, an English photographer of the late 1960s (mostly unknown due to his early death in 1972 aged 30) and a major early influence on the better-known photographer Martin Parr, who curated the exhibition and whose early work is also exhibited (his better-known British seaside work is both very funny and uncompromisingly brutal, if you are not aware of it already). 

The lists of instructions and critical notes that Ray-Jones wrote to himself are exhibited alongside his work – an insight that is not seen so very often. Each note ('Don't take boring pictures', 'Get in closer', 'Take simpler pictures') are so simple and familiar that they rather justify anyone who has ever regretfully written a list of instructions to themselves and then felt it to be just too contrived to be at all creative. The photographs are of real people living ordinary lives, and the notes and documents make it clear that the photographer, despite prodigious talent, was just a person with familiar and ordinary concerns.

Anyway, I did what I never do, and bought a book from a museum. The Non-Conformists, Martin Parr's beautiful book of photographs of the north of England in the 1970s. If that's not a recommendation, I'm not sure what is.