The Secret Life of Charles Jones

Explore a life in pictures that were discovered in a trunk and saved from being destroyed

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Charles Jones (1905) by Charles JonesDulwich Picture Gallery

Very little is known about the early
life of gardener and photographer
Charles Jones. Born in the
city of Wolverhampton in the English
Midlands, Jones worked on a number
of private estates from the 1890s onwards.

Broccoli Leamington (1895/1910) by Charles JonesDulwich Picture Gallery

During his time at Ote Hall in Sussex, Jones received particular recognition for his gardening talents and was even praised in the popular journal the Gardener’s Chronicle. 

However, gardening was not Jones’ only talent. Despite receiving such recognition as a celebrated gardener, Jones found time for another passion: immortalising his finest specimens through the use of photography.

Bean Longpod, Charles Jones, 1895/1910, From the collection of: Dulwich Picture Gallery
,
Iris Susiana, Charles Jones, 1895/1910, From the collection of: Dulwich Picture Gallery
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It is believed that Jones made hundreds of photographs of plants, fruit and vegetables during his time at Ote Hall using a glass-plate camera. 

Onion Alisa Craig (1895/1910) by Charles JonesDulwich Picture Gallery

His tightly cropped, precisely arranged and lit, and expertly printed photographs were not the result, we must presume, of any formal photography training, and yet they display a highly sophisticated understanding of both the photographic process and formal composition.

Cabbage Lettuce 'All the Year Round' (1895/1910) by Charles JonesDulwich Picture Gallery

Despite their beguiling beauty and individual style, there is no known record of Jones ever receiving recognition for his photographs during his lifetime. 

In fact, it was 22 years after his death, at an antiques market in Bermondsey, London, where Jones’ talents would finally be discovered.

Pear Beurré Rance (1895/1910) by Charles JonesDulwich Picture Gallery

Chancing upon a trunk for sale at one of his favourite haunts, the writer and collector Sean Sexton was unsure exactly what he had discovered when he opened the chest to find a seemingly endless stream of small black-and-white photographs of potatoes, marrows, pears and tulips.

Tulip Couleur Cardinal (1895/1910) by Charles JonesDulwich Picture Gallery

Unusually, Sexton had arrived late to the market that day, and must have been one of the last to inspect this unusual find, after many had declared it nothing but an eclectic hoard.

Tulip Couleur Cardinal (1895/1910) by Charles JonesDulwich Picture Gallery

As was common in such markets, the contents of the trunk would no doubt have been discarded if they hadn’t attracted this last-minute interest. Luckily for us all, Sexton arrived in time to make his offer, rescuing Jones from the scrap pile and positioning him deserve

Credits: Story

You can see many more of Charles Jones' works at our exhibition Unearthed: Photography's Roots.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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