Creative Cauldron - Charles JonesWednesday, April 13, 2011
Charles Jones. A very ordinary name. An extraordinary photographer well ahead of his time.
I love the simplicity of his photos. The inky blacks. The texture. The quietness. The stillness. The gravitas. The feeling I get from seeing his photos of vegetables is the same as I get from watching the Robin Williams film 'Dead Poets Society' and the phrase 'carpe diem'. Such ordinary subjects long gone made beautiful. Charles Jones was a gardener and I think it really shows how much he loved and knew the plants he worked with.
It amazes me that the composition is so modern. It is of our era, not his. It blows me away that he made that leap, that he was just someone ordinary with a family and a full time physical job who taught himself photography in a time when it was complicated, expensive and rare. And not that he tried and learned but that he produced an exceptional body of work.
We don't know much about him. We know he was well respected in his profession. His photography was unknown to the world while he was alive, and virtually unknown to his family. It was discovered by accident long after he died. Seriously. It's a helluva tale.
A suitcase was bought at an antiques market in London. It contained hundreds of Edwardian era photographs - gold-toned silver prints from glass plate negatives. They were all shots of fruits, vegetables and flowers. Luckily they were purchased by an author and photographic collector and have been brought to the world's attention. Only around 75 years after originally being shot. Better late than never!
My discovery of the work of Charles Jones was also accidental, though not quite as spectacular. I had been dragged to an exhibition by a photographer friend, at London's Serpentine Gallery I think, as part of a day out on the way to somewhere else. I now don't recall the rest of that day.
This was one of those mesmerising exhibitions that imprints itself on your brain. The images floated around inside my head for years, always making me regret that I'd been stone broke at the time and hadn't purchased the book of the exhibition. I still don't have it... yet... though a used copy is in my wishlist. In my defense, I've only just tracked this artist down. I tend to be a bit rubbish with remembering names.
And how did I manage to track down a turn of the century vegetable photographer whose name I couldn't remember? Well I did remember that his grand daughter recalled he used his glass plate negatives in the garden as cloches. Then it was 'just' a lot of internet sleuthing.
More Charles Jones linksImages have been collected from these sources, with plenty more to view:
Galleries with Charles Jones prints for sale, and more images
About the Creative Cauldron series of posts
The rest of the series is accessible via the Creative Cauldron page. Have a meander if you please, and remember to check out my artworks on Flickr, and have an insider peek at life as an artist on Facebook.