Search This Blog


Thursday, October 22, 2009

In praise of Jane Bown

I've been looking at the Guardian's splendid gallery of the work of photographer Jane Bown from the 1940s to the present day. It features a cavalcade of statesman, artists, pop stars, actors, poets and sportsmen that's unlikely to be matched by any collection in the future. It recalls a time when you could photograph celebrities in the wild, as they were being interviewed, rehearsing or killing time, when their hirelings didn't demand photo approval or that the pictures be taken by a close personal friends or someone unfeasibly expensive. Ironically, most of the pictures that project their charisma come from this period rather than from the era of total control.

Her astounding picture of Samuel Beckett (above) was one of five snapped in the alley outside the Royal Court, the Beatles appear unaware of her as they pass the afternoon in a dressing room in East Ham while Richard Harris sits in his hotel suite with his robe perilously loosely-arranged. It's interesting to see these arranged chronologically. In the mid-90s you can see the arrival of a generation who are more bothered about how they look than how they come over. From Morrissey onwards all her subjects seem to see her coming and compose their features in readiness. She reflects in the commentary about how easy she found Bjork. "Possibly too easy," she says.