Last Thursday I read a post on Twitter about the Guardian Interactive feature on Jane Bown, which accompanies a show of her work next door to the Guardian at Kings Place, on until 21 Nov 2009 and a new book of her work.
The site has an excellent collection of her portraits and a video in which she talks about her time at Guildford School of Art studying with Ifor Thomas, her first assignment for the Observer in 1949 and some key sessions since then, including photographing the Beatles, The Queen, Francis Bacon, Samuel Beckett and others.
She has really had an incredible career as a portrait photographer, and I’ve always admired her simple and straightforward style both as a photographer and a person. Once well-known for carrying her camera in a basket, she never worried much about equipment. She got an Olympus OM1 with a standard lens when it came out in the early 1970s and is still using it. When the Queen, awarding her an MBE, asked what she did, the reply was “I’m a hack.” Later she got a CBE and when both women were 80 the Queen sat for a session with her.
You can also view an earlier presentation on her work, made at the time of the publication of ‘The Unknown Jane Bown’ and an essay about her written in 2007 by Germaine Greer. Photographers will find some details interesting, such as her “40-year-old Olympus OM1 cameras, with a 50mm F2.5 lens” wondering how she managed to get the camera in 1967 when Olympus only announced it in 1972 and thinking that the lens looks rather like the more familiar and very fine f1.8 that most of the rest of us used, but it still makes interesting reading.