Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr make powerful pairing at Science Museum's new Media Space

By Sarah Jackson | 12 November 2013

Science Museum's impressive new space unites photographers, artists, curators and creative peers

Three female beauty contestants in swimming costumes stand beside a table where a man sits drinking tea.
Tony Ray-Jones, Beauty contestants, Southport, Merseyside (1967)© National Media Museum
The Media Space at the Science Museum draws on the National Photography Collection, as well as broader Science Museum Collections. Bradford's National Media Museum has been a key collaborator.

The inaugural exhibitions in the new gallery reflect this remit, helped by inventive art and design collective Universal Everything.

Only In England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr is the first major London exhibition of the former, a hugely influential British photographer. More than 100 works taken from the Tony Ray-Jones archive, in Bradford, will be displayed alongside 50 rarely seen black and white photographs from Parr’s series The Non-Conformists.

Between 1966 and 1969, Ray-Jones began to document images of English customs and identity, which soon attracted attention from the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.

His career was cut tragically short when he died from Leukaemia in 1972 at the age of 30. Nevertheless, his influence on British photography has endured right up to the present day, inspiring countless other photographers including Parr.

“Tony Ray-Jones’ pictures were about England," he says.

"They had that contrast, that seedy eccentricity, but they showed it in a very subtle way. They have an ambiguity, a visual anarchy. They showed me what was possible.”

Parr was inspired to produce The Non-Conformists, a black and white series documenting a year in the life of a small Methodist chapel and the farming community of Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. Selections from this series will also be displayed in Only in England, revealing his work to a wider audience.

Parr has also been invited by the National Media Museum to select 50 previously unprinted works from 2,700 contact sheets and negatives in their archive, displayed alongside an equal number of vintage prints.

“The combination of Martin Parr and Tony Ray-Jones’s work will allow the viewer to trace an important trajectory through the history of British photography, and present new ways of thinking about photographic histories through creative use of our collections," believes Greg Hobson, the curator of Photographs at the National Media Museum.

A large two part audio-visual artwork, created by Universal Everything through a smart phone app, will also be displayed in Media Space.

Founded by Matt Pyke in 2004, Universal Everything works with emergent technologies to develop collaborative works with an energetic and playful aesthetic. Universal Everything and You has been developed from two parts, 1000 Hands and Presence.

1000 Hands is being created through contributions from the public via the mobile app. The original simple line drawings will develop into new forms. Within the physical gallery space, a circular projection will show these user-generated artworks on multiple screens, accompanied by an evolving soundtrack.

Presence is formed from a circular four-screen video installation around 1000 Hands, showing moving abstract forms against a black background. The life-sized forms have been created using the motion-captured performances of dancers Julia Eichton and Nathan Makolandra, from Benjamin Millepied’s LA Dance Project.

These performances also change over time, changing costumes, materials, colour and behaviour, moving to an audio pulse synchronised with the soundtrack.

  • Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr runs until March 2014, then is at the National Media Museum, Bradford until June 29. Universal Everything and You runs until February 7 2014. The 1000 Hands app for both Apple/iOS and Android devices is available to download for free here. Follow the Space on Twitter @MediaSpaceLDN.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A crowd of people sit in deckchairs on the beach.
From Presence, Universal Everything & You© National Media Museum
Coloured lines forming the silhouette of a dancing human figure against a black background.
Tony Ray-Jones, Blackpool (1968)© Universal Everything
Artist's impression of Universal Everything and You gallery space.
Artist’s impression of Universal Everything & You© Universal Everything
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Follow Sarah Jackson on Twitter @SazzyJackson.
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