Colin Jones began his working life as a dancer with the Royal Ballet before taking up the camera professionally in the early 1960s. The vast majority of the photographs reproduced here stem from 1962-65, seemingly an outpouring of creativity unleashed once he had taken the opportunity to get behind the lens full-time.
Jones’ work, as displayed in the book, focuses mainly on the working classes at work, play and day-to-day in the Sixties. The chapter headings: Life, Coal, Ships, Time Off and Dance – somewhat oddly included – guide one on a sympathetic tour of what it meant to be a grafter, a hard worker at a time when the sun was setting on the industrial age.
Capturing miners, dockers and ship builders at work, Jones is respectful and distanced, preferring to use natural light to bring his subjects to the fore and to allow the dramatic industrial backdrops to frame his pictures. Nowhere is this better exemplified than no. 81, Walking to work at Swan Hunter’s shipyard, Wallsend Newcastle-Upon Tyne, 1963, where the oppressively wet pre-dawn streets are watched over by huge shipbuilding cranes as a solitary man walks toward them.
Away from the serious business of work, is seems as if Jones can relax too. In the chapter Time Off his picture Woman in curlers at ‘77 Sunset Strip’ boarding house, Blackpool,1966 is juxtaposed with a later image no.113 Waitress at ‘77 Sunset Strip’ boarding house, Blackpool 1966, where we see the waitress sitting in front of a board on which the Little Englander proprietor has written “Notice. If you are wearing rollers in your hair, you will be asked to leave this dining room.”
But as light as these moments are it is the men toiling with dignity and forbearance in Coal that move us most in Grafters. These men refuse to be humbled, often looking Jones in the eye when being photographed, their self-respect, despite the physical exhaustion at the end of another shift, intact. They, most of all, encapsulate the book’s quiet dignity that recalls a people and a time with a poignant yet unsentimental air.