During the 1890s, a photographer named Charles Harry Jones took several positions as a master gardener in England, including the Ote Hall, a famous country venue in Sussex. In 1905, Jones received honorable mention in the September 20th issue of “The Gardner’s’ Chronicle”. Little is known about Charles Jones’ activities up his death, about half a century later.
What very few people knew about Charles Jones during his lifetime is that he created a series of gelatin silver prints of the vegetables, fruits, and flowers he had harvested himself. Apparently, he did not share his interest with people outside his family. He died in 1959 in Lincolnshire.
Two decades after Jones’ death, in 1981, Sean Sexton, a collector, found several of Charles Jones’ prints in the Bermondsey Market. Sexton was able to trace the photographs through Jones’ granddaughter, who recognized the prints after seeing them displayed on the BBC. Sexton wrote a monograph about Jones and his findings were later published in a book.
The book about the photographer
The book (see reference below) has a short introduction about Jones, followed by about 100 pages displaying 8X10 reproductions of his prints. Most photographs are leafy vegetables and roots, but towards the end there are a few photographs of flowers and fruit. The prints are beautifully executed against grey background, they are very sharp and reveal enormous richness of texture and detail.
I am not going to show the photos here because I don’t want to get in trouble with the publishers, but a quick search on google for “Charles Jones” will return several of his images. Nothing, however, equals looking at the photos printed on the book. What raised my interest.
The mystery surrounding Charles Jones’ work
What I find most interesting, puzzling, and inspiring about Charles Jones’ work is the fact that there isn’t much information about it. Unlike other photographers of his time, Jones did not leave a diary, notes, publications, or any information that complements, explains, or directs the interpretation of his photography.
Think about this: we share so many photos and so much information about them. We write about our creative process, spell out camera settings and post-processing techniques. Some photographers write about what they think their photos “mean”, which stories they tell, or how they should be interpreted. In all this, where is the viewer? How is the viewer supposed to find, in the work of modern photographers, his own meaning, her own story, his own interpretations?
I highly recommend the book to photographers, particularly those interested in botanical subjects. Reference below.
Reference: Plant Kingdoms: The Photographs of Charles Jones. The Outsider Genius Saved from Obscurity by Chance Discovery. Sean Sexton and Robert Flynn Johnson. Preface by Alice WatersThames and Hudson, 1998. 128 pp.