Colin Jones is an English ballet dancer-turned-photographer and prolific photojournalist of post-war Britain. Jones documented facets of social history as diverse as the vanishing industrial working lives of the North East coalfields, Grafters
, delinquent Afro-Caribbean youth in London, The Black House
, hedonistic 1960s Swinging London
with pictures of The Who early in their career, the 1963 race riots in Alabama, Soviet Leningrad
, and remnants of a rural Britain now lost to history.
Jones was born in 1936. He experienced a war childhood; his father, a Poplar, East End printer, went away as a soldier on the Burma campaign. Jones' family was evacuated to Essex and he attended a succession of thirteen schools whilst struggling with dyslexia, before the age of sixteen, when he took up ballet lessons. In 1960 Jones was called up for national service and served in the Queen's Royal Regiment. Fresh out of the army, Colin joined the Royal Opera House, later moving to the Touring Royal Ballet and embarked on a nine-month world tour. Jones met, and for four years was married to, the great ballerina Lynn Seymour. Whilst on tour and running an errand for Dame Margot Fonteyn, he purchased his first camera, a Leica
3C rangefinder, in 1958 and started taking photographs of the dancers and backstage life during the Australian leg of the circuit. Jones admired the available-light backstage photography of Michael Peto, a Hungarian émigré, who agreed to mentor him.
Colin Jones took advantage of the ballet company's travel to photograph extensively in the streets of Tokyo, Hong Kong and the Gorbals, Glasgow in 1961. Driving with fellow dancers from Newcastle to Sunderland that year, he saw, north of Birmingham, coal searchers on the spoil-heaps. In 1962, having changed his career to become a photographer for The Observer
he returned to produce a series of photographs recording the vanishing industrial working poor and mining communities in the North East of England, later publishing the essay as the book Grafters
. At The Observer
he worked alongside photographers Philip Jones Griffiths
and Don McCullin
. He worked in Fleet Street
for several years before turning freelance. Commissioned assignments took him to New York City in 1962; Liverpool docks in 1963; the race riots in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, where he made portraits of both 'Bull' Connor, and Dr Martin Luther King in 1963; Leningrad, USSR in 1964. In 1966 he photographed the British rock band The Who at the beginning of their career, and Pete Townshend, then Mick Jagger in 1967. He travelled to the Philippines in 1969 where he photographed the sex trade. He portrayed significant dancers, including Rudolph Nureyev for several publications.
Jones’ work has been published in major publications including Life
, National Geographic
as well as many supplements for major broadsheet newspapers, most prominently The Times
, who dubbed Jones "The George Orwell of British photography"
. In his later career he covered assignments around the world, including Jamaica in 1978; the indigenes of the New Hebrides and Zaire in 1980; Tom Waits in New York, 1981; San Blas Islands in 1982; Ireland in 1984; Xian, China in 1985; Ladakh in northern India 1994 and Bunker Hill, Kansas in 1996.
Solo exhibitions have been devoted to his work: The Black House: Colin Jones
at The Photographers' Gallery in London, 4 May – 4 June 1977 as well as at many other galleries. Martin Harrison’s Young Meteors associated Jones with other important British photographers including Don McCullin
and Terence Donovan
. In 2013 the Victoria and Albert Museum
acquired three of Jones' historic photographs from The Black House
series, along with a photograph by Dennis Morris depicting the original Black House associated with Michael X, both acquired as part of Staying Power, a five year partnership between the V&A and Black Cultural Archives, preserving black British experience from the 1950s to the 1990s through photographs and oral histories. The Arts Council also purchased his work.
The art of photography remains so fascinating because of the individuals who arrive from unexpected places and take the medium through a lifetime of changes. The career of Colin Jones has a startling trajectory. He was born in 1936, in time to be a war child, a father away as a soldier, and 13 different schools. An element of chance, as well as talent, led to a scholarship at the Royal Ballet School.
The moment that defined Jones's later life occurred as he was driving with fellow-dancers from Newcastle to Sunderland one day in 1961. Travelling north of Birmingham and seeing the winding gear of coalmines had always excited Jones, who was steeped in the books of George Orwell, but now he saw the extraordinary drama of spoil-heaps swarming with coal searchers - an epic of reality and survival.
Colin Jones is one of the most celebrated and prolific photographers of post-war Britain. He has documented facets of social history over the years as diverse as the vanishing industrial working lives of the Northeast (Grafters), delinquent Afro-Caribbean youth in London (The Black House), and most recently, the high-octane hedonism of Swinging London with his famous pictures of The Who early in their career. His work has been published in every major publication with any regard for the image and photography. Such as Life, and National Geographic, as well as many supplements for the major broadsheets. He has had solo exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and at the Photographers Gallery in London, as well as at many other venues internationally.
Source: Michael Hoppen Gallery