We’ve all probably seen the Magnum top-tips PDF that’s being offered on Lensculture; the one with the crucial bit of advice that any photog with common sense should have cracked, without needing Magnum to tell them to WEAR GOOD SHOES.
But it’s a reminder, isn’t it? Bad feet wreck your day and probably make you forget things vital for the shoot. Things like trying to stick to a faster shutter speed to avoid camera-shake; thinking harder about composition; maybe trying to be that bit less timid with the people you are photographing.
That’s not me talking by the way, and none of us is going to disagree. The bit about camera-shake should serve as a pointer to this being a bit of Good Old-Fashioned Advice From The Dim and Distant, from before we had image stabilisation and low-noise stratosphere-nudging ISOs – in fact from a time when noise only came out of a factory or a Dansette.
These bits of always-pertinent wisdom came from the biro of Tony Ray-Jones (1941-72). You can see the very piece of paper, his things-to-remember checklist, if you catch up with the Science Museum Media Space show Only in England. It’s been on the road since 2014 and at time of writing (May 2017) has just left the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle to go off across country to Redcar for the summer and then to Great Yarmouth. The exhibition comprises a classic selection of Ray-Jones’ archive images, printed quite small by him, plus a good number of Nat. Media Museum-printed images apparently never shown until 2014. Alongside those is some of the earliest work of Martin Parr. The two never met each other and were working some years apart, but Ray-Jones’ influence on Parr was still hot, never mind warm, when Parr set to work, in the mid-70s, on the wonderful The Non-Conformists, shot around Hebden Bridge and Midgley in West Yorkshire.
This isn’t intended to be a review, but it’s not only for me, a middle-aged child of the West Riding, that these early Parr pictures are sometimes hilarious but always quite affecting at the same time. Having said that I can’t help but think that Ray-Jones’ images are the hardest-worked-for and most keenly observed.
That’s down to the man of course, but also probably that checklist. How many times have we made (more than) one checklist in a notebook with the best intentions of revisiting it again and again to keep us on track, but just got carried away with snapping? Parr discusses just that in the exhibition film, leading us through Tony’s aggressive-caps mantra:
‘See if everything in background relates to subject matter’
‘Not all eye level’
‘No middle distance’
‘Don’t take BORING pictures’ (triple underlined in red)
And more. Sometimes we just need to give ourselves a stiff talking to.
Only in England has moved on to the Palace Arts Hub and Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar, N. Yorks until 3 October 2017 after which it moves to Time and Tide at Great Yarmouth till March 2018.