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29 July 2014
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Paper Movies

Ramsgate by Tony Ray Jones

Ramsgate © Science and Society Picture Library

British-born Tony Ray Jones moved to New York to train as a graphic designer, but was lured away from the drawing board by the siren call of the street. Ray Jones' notebooks from the period contain the distilled wisdom of the 1960s street photographer. 'Be more aggressive.' 'Be more involved.' 'Talk to people.''Stay with the subject.' 'Be patient.''Take simpler pictures.' 'Don't take boring pictures.''Get in closer.'

In 1965, Ray Jones returned home to see how lessons learned in America could be applied here. But in the 60s Britain was called 'a right little, tight little island'. For the unguarded subjects and the spontaneous situations he needed there was only one place to go the beach, the place British photographers have instead of the street. The tradition of candid British seaside photography goes way back. In 1892 Paul Martin had a camera disguised as a small paper brown parcel, and the pictures he took show the magic of the beach at work. Here at least it was possible to forget for a while what being Victorian meant. Seventy years later Ray Jones turned the beach into a psychiatrist's couch. The place where the nation reclined and bared its soul. Family dramas, displays of eccentricity, dreams of love, the damp disappointments of everyday life. The beach and the seafront were the stage where these classic themes were played out and Ray Jones with his New York trained eye caught them all.

"Going to the seaside was like going back in time, in a sense, to a country that was still struggling to become modern. And that's what he wanted to find here - a place that you could record eccentricity and you could record some sort of essence of what people were about. There's a sort of abandon about the seaside, you find people performing in a way that they wouldn't do and then in that performance they're revealing something of themselves that they wouldn't normally do." (David Chandler, Writer)

Extract from 'Paper Movies', Genius of Photography (Wall to Wall)

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