“I had access to what felt like this secret world,” says Dafydd Jones, who has worked as a social photographer since the 1980s for publications such as Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, The Sunday Telegraph, and The Times. “I was taking pictures of elites that nobody had seen before. It was Thatcher’s Britain, a period of celebration for those that had money. People described it as the ‘last hurrah’ of the upper classes.”
He won a photography competition run by The Sunday Times magazine in 1981 with a set of photographs of “Bright Young Things”; Tatler editor Tina Brown hired him off the back of it, commissioning him to photograph the Hunt Balls, society weddings, and debutante dances that were a mainstay of the upper-class publication. Now Jones has put together a collection of his work for Tatler from 1981-89 titled The Last Hurrah, which is currently on show at The Photographers’ Gallery and put out as a publication by Stanley Barker.
The Tatler gig was a “dream job” says Jones, but it was also hard work, with very unsociable hours. “I’m not a particularly outgoing person and don’t really like parties, which is probably a good thing,” he laughs. “It would have been easy to get carried away on the job and drink a few too many.”
Even so the now-62-year-old captured many exceptional moments, from students burning a boat at Oriel College, Oxford, to a member of the Bullingdon Club fast asleep, to a women pushed into a pond at Ascot’s Martin Betts Dance. He says patience and persistence were key.
The hardest part was getting peoples’ names, and the Welsh-born photographer is keen to point out that “it wasn’t just wandering around parties” – he had to leave with a set of pictures suitable for Tatler, and a caption to go with each one. But this also meant he got to know the society circles better and, as a result, got better pictures. “Sometimes you can take pictures and not really know enough,” he says. “Even now, I try to speak to those that I’m photographing – it really does help.”
Working exclusively in black-and-white, Jones developed and printed all the images for the The Last Hurrah himself, in his self-built darkroom. He has selected 14 photographs to go on display in The Photographers’ Gallery’s Print Room, and 22 for the Stanley Barker publication. “More than anything, I’m doing it for enjoyment,” says the Welsh-born photographer. “It’s amazing discovering photographs that I had forgotten about.”
The Last Hurrah is on show at The Photographers’ Gallery’s Print Room until 8 September https://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibition/dafydd-jones-last-hurrah
The Last Hurrah is published by Stanley Barker, priced £6 www.stanleybarker.co.uk/collections/frontpage/products/the-last-hurrah