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Only in England - Review

The catalogue coverOnly in England, an exhibition of work by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr, was held at the Science Museum, London, 2013-2014

This is an exemplary exhibition.  Bringing together vintage work by Tony Ray-Jones, a selection of his unpublished pictures and a welcome return of Martin Parr’s Non Conformists, itis visually arresting, photographically illuminating and conceptually thought-provoking.

At a time when so much exhibition photography seems intent on bludgeoning the viewers into submission through sheer size and strong colour, Only in England seduces with modesty and the subtle, calming pleasures of monochrome. These are pictures that invite the viewer to get in close, to be drawn into the scene and enjoy the simplicity of gesture, expression and body language. There are multiple narratives to be teased out, apparent dislocations to be understood and mysteries outside the frame that become the subjects of conjecture.  In the work of both artists this is achieved not least through marrying content with a strong sense of design, there are no dull or boring pictures.

The exhibition also taps into the guilty pleasure of nostalgia.  At a general level this may simply be a fascination with seeing how things were in the past, in having revealed something of a make do and mend society that seems so far removed from our on-line easy-credit world.  At a personal level, and this applies to viewers of any age: we may be looking at ourselves, our parents, our grandparents, at our great grandparents, even.  Through the images we are drawn into the worlds of our predecessors; and we may stop for a minute to reflect that in 45 years our lives today will be the object of nostalgia and curiosity too.  Visually arresting images indeed.

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