Monday, January 5, 2015

A Glimpse Through The Lens: Jane Bown

Jane Hope Bown, photographer, 
13th March 1925 - 21st December 2014

Jane Bown was a staff photographer at the Observer newspaper for over fifty years, from 1949 until shortly just before her death last month at the age of 89.  She was a legendary photographer who produced a large and consistent body of imagery over her career, working on 35mm film and almost exclusively in black and white until the end of her career.  She was famous for using only natural light, favouring indirect sunlight from a north facing window to allow her to shoot at her preferred setting of f2.8 at 1/60 second.  If she expected the light to be bad then, rather than use flash, she would set out (usually on the bus) to an assignment with the Observer picture editor's anglepoise desk lamp in hand.  Bown was known to be uninterested in her equipment - she bought all of her cameras second hand and carried them in a wicker basket, and ignored the cameras inbuilt light-meter in favour of judging how the light fell on the back of her outstretched hand.  
She had the unique ability when shooting portraits of the famous to produce iconic images from informal settings, putting her subject at ease and often completing the shoot within ten minutes or capturing portraits whilst they were being interviewed.  These candid moments featuring some of the most iconic faces of the last 65 years were donated to the Guardian (the parent company of the Observer) and stand as a record of modern British popular culture over that period. 

Camera-shy playwright Samuel Beckett - the third of five frames shot when Bown politely cornered him outside the stage door of a theatre.

Dennis Hopper

Queen Elizabeth II

Sir John Betjeman photographed, by the looks of things, near Daymer Bay in Cornwall.


Michael Caine

Mick Jagger, mid-interview.

Richard Nixon

Tony Benn

All images copyright Jane Bown/the Guardian

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