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Samuel Becket by Jane Brown. Source: Guardian online.

Jane Bown: Looking For Light

I watched this documentary on Jane Bown (1925 – 2014) on the Sky Arts Channel. It told the story of her life and work and featured lengthy interviews with Brown herself. She worked as a photographer for the Guardian newspaper and gain a reputation as an excellent portrait photographer, photographing numerous famous faces from Mick Jagger to Queen Elizabeth and from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Samuel Becket.

Samuel Becket by Jane Brown. Source: Guardian online.
Samuel Becket by Jane Bown. Source: Guardian online.

I learned several things about Bown’s approach to photography from the documentary:

  • She always favoured natural light, avoiding artificial light unless no day light was available. She would systematically stalk out the room to find the best light.
  • She believed in keeping a distance from her subjects (not being too familiar) so she could better observe them and ‘find their photo’.
  • She worked almost exclusively in black and white, creating sharply focused images using a full tonal range.
  • She preferred to approach her work quietly, so the sitters would almost forget that she was present, and she could concentrate on finding the right
    PJ Harvey by Jane Bown. Source: Guardian online.
    PJ Harvey by Jane Bown. Source: Guardian online.


  • Bown used a standard lens with an open aperture when the light conditions demanded it. No flash. A number of sitters commented on how close up she would be with her camera.

Bown captured remarkable portraits with simple equipment. Her success seemed to lie in her ability to put people at easy and capture something of ‘what was behind the eyes’.






Directors Dodd L &  Michael Whyte M (2014). Jane Bown: Looking For Light.  Soda Pictures [viewed on Sky Arts channel 29.5.15]

Whitmore G (2014). Guardian Online. A life in Pictures. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2014/dec/21/jane-bown-a-life-in-photography-in-pictures [accessed 30.5.15]


Kermode M (2014). The Guardian Online. Looking for light – Jane Bown. http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/apr/27/looking-for-light-jane-bown-review-affectionate-documentary-observer-photographer [accessed 30.5.15]

Bown J, Dant A and Villani L (2009). The Guardian Online. The complete Jane Bown: a lifetime in photographs http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/interactive/2009/oct/22/jane-bown-photography [accessed 30.5.15]

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