Colin Jones (1936-2021) was one of the most celebrated and prolific photographers of post-war Britain. Colin was born in Poplar, London in 1936. His formative years were shaped by the events of the Second World War. Relentless bombing of the capital meant Jones, along with his mother and younger brother, were frequently uprooted and evacuated to the relative safety of the surrounding countryside. Consequently, Jones’s education suffered, attending 13 schools and suffering from dyslexia, he obtained no academic qualifications.As an adolescent, a chance visit to his last school of a dancer from The Festival Ballet (Ballet Director, Kenneth Scovell) was to introduce Jones to the world of classical dance. It was a talent for ballet that was to provide him with an escape from a career more typically associated with the working classes of the East End. Against the odds he won a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School.
Later, as a member of the prestigious Royal Ballet, Jones was to dance mainly with their touring company in the corps de ballet performing in many parts of Britain and traveling the world. It was the era of Fonteyn and Nureyev, photographers were ever present and he was to become familiar with their procedures and techniques. One photographer in particular intrigued him, the Hungarian-born photojournalist Michael Peto, who was at the time the Royal Ballet’s official photographer. Jones loved the intimate, unexpected and poetic quality of Peto’s work: “He took photos of exhausted dancers after rehearsals in dingy church halls – he was my greatest influence on my development as a photographer”.Jones continued to tour with the dance company to such destinations as South Africa (in 1960 when the Sharpeville Massacre brought the company’s engagements to an abrupt end) and to the Philippines (where he enjoyed the hospitality of the ruling Marcos family one day and visited shanty towns the next). Already looking beyond the cocoon of his life, his interest in photography grew and he began acquiring serious cameras. The defining moment however came in 1961 when driving with fellow dancers from Newcastle to Sunderland he witnessed the extraordinary drama of slag heaps swarming with coalsearchers, skipping class he spent the entire day photographing. The resultant images were to change the course of his life, gaining him a contract with ‘The Observer’ and contact with the newspapers. Over the course of his long career, Jones has worked for publications including The Sunday Times, Life and National Geographic.
In May 1962, ‘The Observer’ commissioned Jones to cover the burgeoning civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S., where his photographs recorded the violent police response to the peaceful black protests. The media coverage and worldwide shock drew the attention of President John Kennedy who acted with what became the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He has documented facets of social history over the years as diverse as the vanishing industrial working lives of the Northeast (Grafters, 2002), marginalized Afro-Caribbean youth in London (The Black House, 2006), and the high-octane hedonism of Swinging London with his famous pictures of The Who early in their career (Maximum Who).