Graft and Grace: the legacy of Colin Jones, 1936-2021
Colin Jones, acclaimed as “The George Orwell of British Photography” has died at the age of 85 after a short illness. The team at TopFoto, who have known and worked with Colin for over 20 years as his sole agent, are deeply saddened and our thoughts are with Colin’s family.
Just a few weeks before he became ill, Colin brought his peerless social documentary collection of The Black House to TopFoto’s studio, in order that the entire set of negatives be digitised, with the whole body of work (published and unpublished) to be made easily available for editors for the first time since they were taken in the 1970s.
Flora Smith, Managing Partner of TopFoto, writes: “We all mourn Colin’s passing. A superb photographer, with the gift of printing his own work with equal craftsmanship, Colin became a friend to us all during regular lunches over the years and during thoughtful and entertaining discussions about photography, art, social issues, politics and dance. A highlight was organising an exhibition of Colin’s work which showed at the North Wall Arts Centre in Oxford in early 2020, just before the first lockdown, “Backstage at the Ballet”. Colin, as always, quietly charmed interviewers and public alike. Unassuming, he missed nothing.”
Colin Jones began his career as a dancer with The Royal Ballet, before buying his first camera in Japan whilst running an errand for Margot Fonteyn and then never looked back.
An early break was for The Observer in the 1960s, resulting in a definitive series covering The Who on tour, and his iconic shot of the band with the Union Jack jacket.
His most profound work however illuminates the graft and the grace of specific communities – ballet dancers, miners, dock workers, and perhaps most famously, young black British residents of The Black House (more accurately described as the Harambee Project or hostel) of Holloway Road, North London, from 1973-1976. The photographs he took, trusted by the residents of the hostel and given unequalled access, were originally at the request of Magnus Linklater, then editor of the Sunday Times, for an article titled “On the Edge of the Ghetto”, and later shown in an explosive exhibition at The Photographers Gallery, 1977, as “The Black House”, an event still talked about to this day.
It is this collection of negatives, The Black House, that Colin Jones agreed to house with TopFoto just before he became ill, in order for all the images to be digitised and made readily available for editorial use for the first time, only via TopFoto
A number of the most famous photographs are familiar from the iconic Prestel book, published in 2006, and at the time The Independent wrote of his images: “Colin Jones’s photographs are a powerful record of time and place; beyond the images is a remarkable rhetoric about London identity, expressed in the subjects’ style and glimpses of the setting. It’s a unique reminder of an environment which only existed for a few years, but which exemplified an important experience in the life of urban Britain and its black communities”.
TopFoto can pay Colin Jones and his remarkable life no better tribute than to continue to organise, digitise and upload his archive for editorial purposes, expanding the impact of his work and getting on with the task, with graft and grace, exactly as he showed us.
Colin Jones, 8 August 1936 to 22 September 2021, photographer. Colin Jones is survived by his wife Priscilla and daughter Sarah.