Professor Colin Jones was born in London’s East End in 1936. Growing up during the Blitz, Colin, who was dyslexic attended 13 different school before being recruited as a dancer by the Festival Ballet.
He later joined the Royal Ballet, at a time when Kenneth MacMillan was embarking on some of his most controversial work. Colin has been described as ” the prototype for Billy Elliot” as his life journey reads like a Hollywood movie.
Colin toured with the Royal Ballet performing alongside Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn, and in Kenneth MacMillan’s “The Invitation” with Prima Ballerina Lynn Seymour, whom he later married.
This was all during the the era of Fonteyn and Nureyev and photographers were ever present and Colin soon became familiar with their techniques. His mentor, however was the Hungarian 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.
Colin bought his first camera on tour in Japan in 1953, while running an errand for Margot Fonteyn. He started photographing the ballet company, revealing the hard work and dedication required to succeed, and depicting the ballet as it had never been seen before.
In 1961 while travelling from Newcastle to Sunderland, Colin spotted a group of people scouring the slag heaps for coal, and skipped his ballet class so that he could photograph them. The following year Colin left the ballet and went to see
The Observer Colour Magazine. In 1962 he was commissioned to cover the burgeoning civil rights movement in Alabama, where his photographs recorded the violent police response to black protests.
That was the first of a long and distinguished sequence of photo-documentary assignments, often risky, covering subjects such as Brazil’s gold mines, gangs in Jamaica, prostitution in the Philippines, the boy soldiers of the Khmer Rouge, and the Cargo Cults of the New Hebrides who worshipped Prince Phillip. Moving on from the Observer to the Sunday Times Magazine, Colin was working at the heyday of investigative photojournalism, alongside photographers such as Don McCullin and Philip Jones Griffiths and under the editorship of Harold Evans.
Besides his overseas stories, Colin has documented British social history over the years, including the vanishing industrial working lives of the Northeast(“Grafters”), marginalised Afro-Caribbean youth in London (“The Black House”) and the high-octane hedonism of Swinging London in the 1960’s with his defining images of The Who early in their career (“Maximum Who”). Colin’s work has been published in numerous major publications including Life and National Geographic and in magazines of the major UK broadsheets.
His work has been exhibited widely at venues that include The Photographers’ Gallery in London, The National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern, the Hayward and Lucy Bell Gallery.
Colin has been acclaimed for his social documentary photography, winning him the accolade of “The George Orwell of Photography”. In 1996, Katharine Viner wrote in The Sunday Times Magazine that Colin’s “Grafters” photographs “look like something described by Orwell in one of his political essays” and his images of “cloth caps and granite faced dockers, like photographs from the 1930s”, would have perfectly illustrated Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier”.