The assignments Jane Bown went on for six decades for The Observer had incredibly limiting circumstances. She usually had very little time to photograph a celebrity (who may or may not have been collaborative), in a space she often didn’t know, using nothing but a very simple mechanical camera, without a light meter, and making only use of available light to create portraits on black and white film. By restricting the variables in her assignments, Bown found freedom and her own recipe to create impactful images. She also didn’t make many images of each sitter, as she felt the first or the last were always “the one”.
To me, her mastery of light is the key element in her work. I sense her “fuss-less” personality also contributed to simplify the process and resulted in decided and direct images. It feels like she might have underestimated her ability to read people, yet still managed to show something very real about each sitter’s personality. I’m also inspired by the ease with which she ignored rules and wouldn’t think twice if she felt that an aggressive crop of a photograph was the image she was looking for.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM/LEFT TO RIGHT:
Sinead O’Connor (1992)
Samuel Beckett (1976)
BOWN, Jane. 2000. Faces – The Creative Process Behind Great Portraits. London: Collins & Brown Ltd
Sep 28, 2022