Born Holroyd Anthony Ray-Jones, he was the youngest son of Raymond Ray-Jones (1886–1942), a painter and etcher who died when his son was only eight months old, and Effie Irene Pearce, who would work as a physiotherapist. After his father's death, Tony's mother took the family to Tonbridge in Kent, to Little Baddow (near Chelmsford, Essex), and then to Hampstead in London. He was educated at Christ's Hospital (Horsham), which he hated.
Tony Ray-Jones studied at the London School of Printing, where he concentrated on graphic design. In the early 1960s he obtained a scholarship that enabled him to join Yale University School of Art on the strength of photographs he had taken in north Africa from a taxi window. Although only 19 on his arrival at Yale, Ray-Jones' talent was obvious, and in 1963 he was given assignments for the magazines Car and Driver and Saturday Evening Post.
Eager to use photography for more creative purposes, Ray-Jones went to the Design Lab held by the art director Alexey Brodovitch in the Manhattan studio of Richard Avedon; Brodovitch's gruff manner and high standards won respect and hard work from Ray-Jones and others. Ray-Jones also got to know a number of New York "street photographers", in particular Joel Meyerowitz, who influenced his later work.
Ray-Jones graduated from Yale in 1964 and photographed the United States energetically until his departure for Britain in late 1965. From then until 1970, he lived and worked at 102 Gloucester Place, Marylebone; this is now marked by a memorial plaque.
On his arrival, he was shocked at the lack of interest in non-commercial photography, let alone in publication of book collections of it. He was also unsure of what subject he might pursue, but the idea of a survey of the English at leisure gradually took shape, and he was able to work on this and at the same time portrait and other work for the Radio Times, Sunday newspapers and magazines. Ray-Jones tried to extensively document the way of life of the English "before it became too Americanised". His photographs of festivals and leisure activities are full of a somewhat surreal humour and show the influence of photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand, Homer Sykes and his own collection of the work of Sir Benjamin Stone. Part of this work was published posthumously in his book A Day Off (1974).
Ray-Jones was both sociable and abrasive, introducing himself to Peter Turner, the editor of Creative Camera, by saying "Your magazine's shit". But he impressed Turner (who later acknowledged Ray-Jones as one of the greatest influences on his view of photography), and also worked hard and successfully to have exhibitions of his works.
Tony Ray-Jones returned to the United States in January 1971 to work as a teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute — one of the few ways in which he could legally stay in the US. He disliked teaching, finding the students self-centred and lazy, but he was soon able to busy himself working on assignments for both the British and the US press.
In late 1971, Ray-Jones started to suffer from exhaustion. Early the next year leukaemia was diagnosed, and he started chemotherapy. Medical treatment in the US was too expensive, so Ray-Jones flew to London on 10 March and immediately entered the Royal Marsden Hospital; he died there on 13 March.
- Four Photographers in Contrast (with Dorothy Bohm, Don McCullin, and Enzo Ragazzini), Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
- A 'father and son' exhibition for Raymond and Tony Ray-Jones, the Astley Cheetham Art Gallery, Ashton-under-Lyne, England, 1996
- A Gentle Madness: The Photographs Of Tony Ray-Jones (1941–72) at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford, England, 2004
- Les Rencontres d'Arles festival, France, 2004
- The Guernsey Photography Festival, 2011
- Mass Photography: Blackpool through the Camera, Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool, England, 2011
- Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr, Science Museum, London, 2013/2014
- A Day Off: An English Journal. London: Thames & Hudson, 1974. ISBN 0-500-27034-1
- Ehrlich, Richard, ed. Tony Ray-Jones. Manchester: Cornerhouse, 1990. ISBN 0-948797-36-3 (paper); ISBN 0-948797-31-2 (cloth)
- Roberts, Russell. Tony Ray-Jones: A Key Figure of British Photography and the British Way of Life, Revealed Afresh. London: Chris Boot, 2004. ISBN 0-9542813-9-X
- American Colour 1962-1965. London: MACK, 2013. ISBN ISBN 1-907946-55-1
- Richard Ehrlich, "Introduction", Tony Ray-Jones (Manchester: Cornerhouse, 1990), 7.
- Ehrlich, 8.
- Ehrlich, 9.
- Ehrlich, 10.
- City of Westminster green plaques http://www.westminster.gov.uk/services/leisureandculture/greenplaques/
- Ehrlich, 12–13.
- Ehrlich, 14–15.
- Peter Turner, History of Photography (Twickenham: Hamlyn, 1987; ISBN 0-600-50270-6), p.208.
- O'Hagan, Sean (31 July 2011). "Mass Photography: Blackpool Through the Camera – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 November 2013. "This week, the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool is hosting a group photography show entitled Mass Photography: Blackpool Through the Camera. The exhibition's title, and much of its observational reportage, nods towards Spender and Trevelyan and their fly-on-the wall approach, but it adds up to nothing less than a potted social history of Blackpool though the lens of some of Britain's greatest documentary photographers, including Bert Hardy, Tony Ray-Jones, Homer Sykes, Chris Steele-Perkins and Martin Parr."
- "Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr". Sciencemuseum.org.uk. 2013-09-21. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- Ray-Jones prints for sale at the Science and Society Picture Library
- Articles on Tony Ray-Jones and his legacy by Roy Hammans
- The English Seen by Liz Jobey at The Guardian, 2004, on the occasion of the opening of "A Gentle Madness: The Photographs Of Tony Ray-Jones (1941–72)" at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford
- Guardian gallery item on Guernsey show
- Tony Ray-Jones 1941-1972 Book featuring black-and-white photographs
- Tony Ray-Jones American Colour 1962-1965 Selected colour photographs