Inspiring women: Jane Bown

It never occurred to me, even at the height of photography exploits, to make pictures of people. I suppose my awkwardness ruled it out without reflection. I always preferred landscapes, the more devoid of people the better. But that only makes the art of portraiture seem even more magical and impossible to me. Karsh and Cartier-Bresson still amaze me. So does Jane Bown.

Jane Bown from Marcio Machado on Vimeo.

Bown's first professional assignment was to shoot Bertrand Russell for The Observer in 1949. But she has photographed basically everybody, from The Beatles to Beckett. She works primarily in black-and-white, using available light, with a forty year Olympus old camera.

And there's as much reportage as portraiture in her work; there's opportunism rather than set-up in most of her photographs. The famous Beckett shot was captured in a theatre passageway after he tried to blow her off and she only got five shots. Love that!

The Guardian: The complete Jane Bown: a lifetime in photographs
Jane Bown collection at the National Portrait Gallery
Books: Exposures & Faces: The Creative Process Behind Great Portraits


  1. I take my hat off to people who photograph people. I think it takes real talent to disarm people enough to get a great shot. Off to read The Guardian article.

  2. same here. I admire people who do portraiture. it totally goes against my nature to approach people in such a personal way. I wonder if I ever manage to do that...

  3. Amazing! Hearing her talking about it as well - so charming and modest.


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