Obituary: Oswald Jones

T. J. Walker
Saturday 30 January 1999 01:02

DURING THE Fifties and Sixties, Oswald Jones photographed both the up-and-coming and the arrived of the London arts world; his list of portraits reads like a page from Who's Who.

Among his subjects were the playwrights Brendan Behan, Bernard Kops, Michael Hastings, J.P. Donleavy, John Osborne and Andrew Sinclair. The novelists included Doris Lessing, Bernice Rubens, Colin Wilson, Henry Williamson, Lynn Reid Banks, Eva Figes, Raymond Williams, Laura Del Rivo, Ann Quin and Alan Burns. There were actors and theatre critics, musicians, composers, poets, cartoonists, art dealers, a film director or two, comedians, politicians and even one photographer - John Deakin. Much of his work was commissioned - Joan Plowright on stage at the Royal Court, and Norman Wisdom for the Daily Mail - though many of his subjects were friends.

He was brought up in the London Welsh world, born to a Welsh father and a Scottish mother in Paddington in 1929. At an early age he acquired a box camera. Later he enrolled at the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Photography and did his National Service in the RAF. "I wanted to be a photographer so they made me a mechanic," he later remarked.

After National Service he joined the staff of Conde Nast, where he enjoyed working on architectural features, but avoided fashion photography. He left in the early 1960s, to work from a studio in St John's Wood. (It was there he met Michael Hastings, then a road sweeper.)

Jones's photographs appeared in the national papers and magazines and a shot of Brendan Behan in a pub in Blackheath provided an early break. The writer had refused to allow the American Irving Penn to photograph him - and bawled him out of the pub - as the latter had refused an offer of a pint. Jones turned up an hour later and got both. The American and British editions of Vogue used the picture - the Americans paid him $100, the British pounds 5.

For much of the 1960s he worked on documentaries in Africa and Turkey for British television. He and his colleagues came under fire in Angola while on patrol with the Portuguese army. They were later arrested as, being bearded, they were assumed to be Cubans.

In Zanzibar he photographed Che Guevara surrounded by bodyguards. "I did not approach too closely." Che was there to support the revolution against the Sultan. A year later Jones had talks in Dar-es-Salaam with rebels from the Congo with a view to photographing the conflict there. This came to nothing. Many of the South African mercenaries in the conflict were also bearded and one leaned across the table and said to Jones, "It will have to come off."

When he returned to London in the 1970s the freelance market had collapsed and he taught architectural photography at Guildford School of Art. He was based for much of the time at Rolston in Hereford, moving to Capel- y-ffin, Powys, where a loose artistic community had emerged. He settled in Abergavenny in the early 1980s and worked on the Abergavenny Chronicle 1984-95, until cataracts forced his retirement.

Inspired by Schubert's Winterreise, Ossie Jones published a collection of photos with poetry by Frances Horovitz and Roger Garfitt as an act of homage to South Wales. Winterreise: an exhibition of landscape photographs by Oswald Jones (1982) accompanied an exhibition at Canterbury Cathedral. In 1997, an exhibition of his portraits was held in Swansea. He gave his collection to the Abergavenny Museum.

T. J. Walker

Oswald David Lloyd Jones, photographer: born London 16 January 1929; married 1955 Marjorie Wilkinson (marriage dissolved 1959); died Abergavenny 28 December 1998.

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