Jane Bown‘s first published photograph, a portrait of Bertrand Russell, appeared in The Observer in January 1949. It was the start of a symbiotic association with Britain’s oldest Sunday newspaper which is still going strong today. Her photographs have never gone out of fashion and her influence shines through the paper.
Her style of portraiture has barely changed since then. With her camera set almost permanently at a 60th and 2.8, with no assistants and using only natural light (in bad light she will sometimes use the light from a reading lamp), she has captured the flaws, strengths and humanity in all her subjects.
Through the 1950’s her role developed. She was not employed purely for portraiture. Her love is for reportage. ‘The best pictures are uninvited. They’re suddenly there in front of you. But they are there one minute and gone the next. I mean it is quite easy to take a photograph, but difficult to get the shot.’
Just as her reputation spread, she joined the fledgling Observer colour supplement in 1964. She changed from her Rollei to a Pentax then, almost immediately, to the Olympus that she uses to this day. She didn’t enjoy her spell on the magazine and after three years returned to the newspaper. ‘I hated spending weeks and weeks on a job. I am a single shot photographer. Just one shot, the shot that is right.’ Back on the paper she went from strength to strength. In 1985 she was awarded the MBE and in 1995 the CBE for her outstanding contribution to photography.
This is not simply a retrospective exhibition. Jane is still in the thick of things mixing it up with, standing back from and outshooting the pack at London Fashion Week in February. ‘When I am on a job I am very tenacious. I’d do anything to get the picture.’